Many expected Ra Ra Riot to craft a defining sophomore album that would overcome the “college rock” label that had been given to the starry-eyed pop-rock dreamers. “The Orchard” heralds this graduation. These kids are all grown up, but they still know how to have a good time.
One key elemental deviation from their first album, “The Rhumb Line,” is the band’s orchestration of the violin and cello. The days of peppy beat-keepers have fallen to the wayside, for the most part. Instead, the strings lay down more melodic and languid background tracks to support frontman Wesley Miles’ heart-on-his-sleeve musings.
Ra Ra Riot’s older fan-base will undoubtedly find familiar territory in “Boy,” one of the album’s few body-rockers. Thanks to Mathieu Santos’ finger-happy bass licks, the band’s ode to youth translates into an energetic celebration of life.
The angelic voice emanating from the speakers during “You and I Know” is that of Alexandra Lawn, the band’s cellist. The song eases in with a certain innocence as Lawn converses with, a presumably, soon-to-be-former beau. As the lamentation unfolds, so does the fervor and emotion that accompanies most breakups. Lawn ups the intensity while guitarist Milo Bonacci builds into a frantic assault on the upper frets until the song slows to a peaceful resolution.
Throughout the album Ra Ra Riot endures this perpetual push and pull between the carefree days of youth and the reality of adulthood. Some songs celebrate freedom and life while others detail the hardships that come with growing up and moving on. The album draws from an eclectic selection of hip-swivelers, head-shakers and crowd-clappers. Overall, it lives up to the band’s indie label spirit, but allows them to step out of the fruit trees and into the spotlight.