The new Ra Ra Riot album, Need Your Light, provides the same emotional roller coaster you feel when someone starts to make a really fantastic point that makes you feel completely understood — only to turn around and say something horrifying, so that you cover your eyes and plead “No!” in your brain. This is because “Water,” a tune co-penned by Vampire Weekend’s Rostam, is the best Ra Ra Riot song in their catalogue. It’s groovy, it’s catchy, it’s rich with orchestral synths, and it boldly kicks off the entire album.
If you’ve never quite connected with Ra Ra Riot’s precious pop, “Water” gives you hope — this might be the moment, this might be the album that breaks through for you! Alas, it’s all downstream from there. “Absolutely” is a fine song, very much the windows-down car trip anthem sought out on most indie records these days, with just enough pandering to appeal to the kids: “If you’ve got a young soul I know which way that I’ll go,” whimpers lead vocalist Wes Miles, in the grand tradition of Western culture and its obsession with youth.
I hoped that the other Rostam production on the album, the titular title track “I Need Your Light,” would be as equally gripping as “Water,” but while the musical elements are enchanting, Miles’ voice pitches to a whine that’s almost a shriek — you really have to love his delivery to love the song. “Bad Times” is the only other song that hits hard, with a really nice breakdown at the chorus, but it teeters on the edge of a Fall Out Boy vocal styling that makes the listener feel guilty for liking it in the first place. “Instant Breakup” is the most frantic and shriek-y, and the whole album winds down in a dreamy haze on “Suckers,” which is what the band makes you feel like for having listened to the whole album when its gem is at the very top. Ultimately, if you’ve always liked Ra Ra Riot, this album will probably do it for you, but if you were drawn in by “Water,” take that song with you and walk away.