If you haven’t heard of Ra Ra Riot yet, that’s about to change. And not just because of this article — the release of its third studio album, Beta Love, has given the band a building wave of popularity in the music community. Both the electronic and indie music genres have slowly gained mainstream appreciation in the past few years; by fusing both genres with soft vocals, the group of four has created a perfectly catchy and eclectic album.
Bands often change their sounds every few years in order to keep their fanbases on their toes, and that is certainly a move Beta Love represents. A break from Ra Ra Riot’s previous work, the new album utilizes synthesizers to create new timbres in the background of several tracks. The resulting songs are soft and bouncy, and are unexpectedly easy listens for the electronic-indie genre.
Lyrically and musically, this album also takes many chances by exploring unusual themes — critics have described it as highly futuristic, orchestral, experimental and almost ethereal. The choice to include more electronic elements in the album was largely a personal one, as the band members themselves enjoy electronic music and wanted to express that in their own work.
The band’s innovative combination of keyboards with classic rock strums — reminiscent of the ’70s and ’80s — have made the album definitively upbeat, with a few slower, romantic tunes like “Wilderness” and “Is It Too Much” mixed in. The arrangement of the tracks makes a one-time, chronological listen easy and almost instinctual.
The increased flexibility in terms of the content and structure of its songs is in part because of the crossroads the band faced with the departure of its cellist, Alexandra Lawn. Bassist Mathieu Santos said the band used the release of this record to experiment with the ways it approached each individual track. Though usually every band member contributes their respective instruments to each song, in this album Ra Ra Riot considered the instrumentation of each song on an individual basis.
“Instead of piling on the instruments on top of every [song], we wanted to make sure we were really doing what was right for the individual songs,” Santos said. “[Doing so] forced people to [go] outside their comfort zones. It was a good exercise in restraint, and trying to serve the songs first.”
In the same way that Ra Ra Riot incorporated more of the sounds it liked, members also added their personal interests to the lyrics of the album, drawing inspiration from science fiction and non-fiction literature.
“This time around, it’s been like, ‘You know what? These ideas are really interesting to us now, and we’re thinking about them all the time, so let’s write songs about them,” Santos said.
Having spent months in preparation and rehearsals for tour, learning how to perform its new songs with the new instruments, the band was anxious for the Jan. 22 release of Beta Love. It released partway through the band’s world tour, a few weeks before a trip to Asia and an impending stop in Los Angeles on Feb. 12 at the El Rey Theatre.
Despite the inevitable discomfort of older fans with the changes, the album has been receiving generally enthusiastic positive feedback.
“We’ve been excited for this record to come out for a lot of reasons, but one of the biggest ones is so that we can finally have new music to play live,” Santos said. “Playing the old and new songs side by side makes the old ones more interesting by having the new ones to compare them to.”
The new sound that Ra Ra Riot has created represents, in Santos’ own words, “pop music that can connect to people in different ways and has this cool unifying thing that all different people can get into.” And, despite having not planned on sticking together past college, the band members have found themselves working with Elvis Costello’s producer, nominated for the Independent Music Awards and even featured in car commercials.
“We’re still having fun, and we said we’ll keep doing it as long as we’re having fun,” Santos said. “Now we’re just trying to see how far we can take it. I guess the timing worked out pretty nicely.”