Clarity from the outset: Need Your Light is 2016’s first excellent pop album. What is not clear is the path that Ra Ra Riot will take from here.
Exemplary pop albums will often find themselves championed for the long haul. In many cases, the year in music will “belong” to the artist who released it. Daft Punk owned 2013 because Random Access Memories was so damn good. The next year belonged to Taylor Swift because of 1989‘s perfect pop approach. You get the idea. Is Ra Ra Riot destined for the same? It depends on that damned path.
Unfortunately, brilliant pop albums are going unnoticed as often as they’re heralded these days. Footnotes here, if listed out MLA style, would include Frankie Cosmos’ Zentropy, Literature’s Chorus, Allo Darlin’s We Come From The Same Place, Paper Route’s The Peace of Wild Things, On An On’s Give In, White Sea’s In Cold Blood. You get the point. Not all are proper comps for Ra Ra Riot’s latest, but suffice it to say, the “Overlooked” bin is already chock full of earworms.
To that end, we’ll do whatever it takes to champion the stump for Ra Ra Riot’s newest set of songs.
Ra Ra Riot celebrates their tenth birthday in 2016, 10 years after they formed in Syracuse, New York. In that time, they’ve proven their brand, no doubt, but albums like Rhumb Line or The Orchard only hinted at the potential realized on Need Your Light. The presence and production of Rostam Batmanglij certainly helps on the title track and the single “Water”, Need Your Light is a stunning set front to back. (It should be noted that Ryan Hadlock (Lumineers, Vance Joy) handles the bulk of production.)
The jangly guitar and pulsing positivity of “Absolutely” is Need Your Light‘s central anthem. It’s a declaration of freedom, of pursuit, of courage. “No more holding back/ Break, break, breaking free/ No gravity is keeping me down/ We’re not stopping…” You get the idea. In a culture steeped in fear and criticism, a buoyant track like “Absolutely” is more than a welcome respite — it’s a clarion call to live differently.
The aforementioned title track drips with enough earnest emotion to make Chris Martin proud, as Wes Miles sings, “I can’t see nothing without your light.” It’s here that the pop/rock perfection can be found, as the song never slips into some overly sentimental drivel. Instead its percussive march drives home the point that community is necessary, that coming out of the dark is only possible when arms are linked. It’s balanced. It’s honest. It’s beautiful.
As for the rest? Pop flavors of all kinds. “Water” is the most infectious track on the album. “Call Me Out” deos the best Journey impression I’ve ever heard. Miles’ falsetto and Mathieu Santos’ light, funky bass line are allowed to jump around all they want in “Bouncy Castle.” “Bad Times” reminds us that “love will get me out in the end.”
Is it perfect? No. Excellent? Absolutely. Ra Ra Riot has released their best work as they celebrate a significant milestone in the life of a band. Here’s hoping there are enough appreciators to carry the cause.