The seven-person Ra Ra Riot jumps and jives on their self-titled debut EP, with energy, but also meaning. This young Syracuse collective suffered a terrible loss in June, with the death of drummer John Pike, but they soldiered on, playing shows in his name (QRO live review), and releasing the wonderful Ra Ra Riot. Almost ‘gospel’ spirit, in the way it marries the joy of music with the power of emotion, it only takes one spin of this record to be thankful that they’ve persevered.
“Each Year” opens the six-song EP, sliding, but not shambolic, melodic, but fun, sweet, but not saccharine. The following “Everest” is driving, darker, and even ominous, but never gets too heavy, thanks to singer Wesley Miles’ high, evocative vocals (along with guitarist Mike Bonacci’s cowbell). But the real emotional core of Ra Ra Riot is the subsequent “Dying Is Fine”. Powerful long before Pike’s death, the emotional resonance of Miles’, “Death, oh baby! / You know that dying is fine, but maybe / I wouldn’t like death if death were good / Not even if death were good” is now something to behold. “Dying” also features some of cellist Alexandra Lawn and violinist Rebecca Zeller’s best strings on the entire record.
Any song following “Dying” would suffer in comparison, and “Can You Tell?”, more of a love song, can feel a bit cloying. Better is the explosive “A Manner To Act”, the most outright rocking piece on the EP, with a strong mix of guitars and strings, and a knock-your-socks-off breakdown of a finale. Ra Ra Riot closes with the grandly orchestral “Ghost Under Rocks”, an impressive number that does lose a bit of the fun in its translation to epic-ness.
Having already played a number of UK festivals & toured with Tokyo Police Club (QRO photos), and about to tour with The Editors, Ra Ra Riot looks set to go on to bigger and better things (with new drummer Mike Ashley). But this is not a band that will ever forget their roots, and what roots they are! Ra Ra Riot is more than just a strong debut by a band: it is a touching introduction to six people you want to know better, and one that you wish you could have.
MP3 Stream: “Dying Is Fine”