Ra Ra Riot, Need Your Light
I heard this too late by a month or so, it feels like; here in Houston, despite it still being too goddamn hot to willingly spend significant time outdoors, summer’s finally on its way out, giving way to what passes for “Autumn” in these parts (i.e., “chilly” temps most Northerners would snicker at, although I’d dare ’em to try to survive the heart of summer down here…).
See, Ra Ra Riot’s Need Your Light is, at its core, a summer album, at least to these ears. It’s luminous and shiny and clean and energetic and full of promise, like the soul of a teenager when school’s out until next fall, when everything looks hopeful and there seems to be plenty of time to do every damn thing you want to do. Because that’s the best part of summer, right? At the start, it feels like anything’s possible; it isn’t until midway through that you’re thinking, “How is it still this hot? And I’m bored, anyway — when’s summer going to be over?”
That’s what this album’s like, with a mission statement pretty neatly encapsulated in the bright, affirmative “Absolutely,” where the band bounces and head-bobs along to a definitively ’80s vibe while singer Wes Miles proclaims that he’s decided to just go for it, to go for everything, not holding back in any of it. It’s damn near impossible to not sing along to and reminds me of a time in my late 20’s, when a younger friend of mine declared that the coming summer would be The Best Summer of Our Lives, that we were going to do all those things we’d always said we would do. Sadly, we didn’t end up doing most of that, and the summer turned out to be a pretty shitty time for all involved, for various reasons, but the sentiment was similar.
The rest of Need Your Light holds tight to that feeling, from the gorgeously lush, handclaps-and-synths blast of “Water” to the driving, half-accusatory, infectious as hell “Foreign Lovers” to the propulsive, manic “Instant Breakup,” and throughout, there’s an intense, joyful energy suffusing the proceedings. The whole is a pitch-perfect melding of modern-day radio-pop style with New Wave-esque ’80s pop and (believe it or not) some seriously arena-rock-sounding moments, and Ra Ra Riot sells it beautifully.
The best part, to me, is that despite mostly leaving their orchestral-pop/prog-pop roots behind, Ra Ra Riot obviously still enjoy experimenting and playing with their sound. On quasi-title track “I Need Your Light,” for one, the primary instruments at first are the cymbals, played louder and louder beneath Miles’ voice until the rest of the percussion comes in, and even then it’s pretty much a duet between vocals and rhythm, with everything else staying in the background. Thinking about it now, it seems pretty weird, I’ll admit, but it’s a very cool thing to hear.
On “Call Me Out,” where Miles’ vocals bring to mind Steve Perry; by the end of the track, I find myself convinced that it’s some kind of crazy, fun crossbreeding of Journey and, say, Freelance Whales, and that works way better than it sounds like it should. The same vocals pop up on “I Need Your Light,” too, and I’m totally, completely good with that. “Every Time I’m Ready To Hug” is funky and frustrated, while “Suckers,” with its falsetto and determined, thumping rhythms, makes me think of X Ambassadors’ better moments.
“Bouncy Castle,” as befits its title, is childlike and sweet and innocent, with a thick layer of retro synths covering everything and surprising hints of both Genesis and Queen(!). Again, going back to that whole start-of-summer thing, it’s a song that’s all about what it’s like to be a kid, full of joy and fun and who-cares-what-we-do promise. Listening to it makes me wish like hell that I could go right back to those days myself.
(Feature photo by Nicole Busch.)