It must be frustrating for Ra Ra Riot to watch erstwhile tourmates Vampire Weekend glide to mainstream glory while they themselves slog away in relative obscurity, because the two bands have trodden a very similar path.
Both are well-read, Ivy League types (VW went to Columbia, RRR to Syracuse), and both hint at their learning with unusual, brainiac lyrical subject matter (the astonishingly beautiful ‘Dying Is Fine’, written by drummer John Pike before his death by drowning in June 2007, was inspired by an EE Cummings poem). Melodically deft, both acts substitute sprightly orchestral flourishes for the standard guitar-band chug.
None of which helped Ra Ra Riot’s debut album ‘The Rhumb Line’ shift many copies, perhaps because their songs are subtler than Ezra and co’s. They open out gradually over repeat listens, whereas VW’s songs are spiky and immediate enough to work as Sunday morning T4 soundbeds.
RRR’s great talent, though, is for penning choruses that don’t so much ‘hit’ as sort of… bloom, or unfurl. Anthemic, but in a low-key, un-gallumphing fashion (is that a word?). In that sense, they’re like a less intense version of Arcade Fire, less declamatory, not so much fire-and-brimstone, more sweetness-and-light.
That’s particularly true of new single ‘Can You Tell’, a song about love rendering you all awkward and goofy, the video to which chimes nicely with the wintry weather we’ve been having since it finds the band done up in woolly hats and gloves, their breath steaming in the cold.
Let’s hope it gets used on an iPod ad or something and gives the band a profile-boost. They’re good. They deserve a break.