College-rock quintet emerges with dynamic LP, leaves room for growth
"Rhumb line" is a term for the constant course a vessel takes in a given direction, which makes it an appropriate namesake of Ra Ra Riot's transitional record. The debut LP charts a band once limited to the basements of Syracuse house parties as it claws its way up the rungs of indie rock.
While several songs from the band's 2007 self-titled EP reappear, The Rhumb Line's
spick-and-span production has tamed the quintet's noisy, cluttered
attempt to transplant live-show energy onto recording. "Each Year" and
"Can You Tell" exemplify this shift with clean, understated guitar
lines and toe-tapping drums that call to mind Death Cab for Cutie's We Have The Facts and We're Voting Yes.
Long-time fan favorite "Dying is Fine" maintains its original
intensity, while its lyrics (albeit derived from an E.E. Cummings poem)
still sound haunting more than a year after the death of former
drummer/vocalist John Pike.
creates this vessel's momentum, though, is its distinctive string section, one
moment stirring a decorative zephyr, the next billowing the sails with
as much power as a shredding guitar solo. Throughout, Wes Miles'
vocals are equal parts gentle and urgent, sometimes mimicking the
songs' string arrangements. On "Winter '05," he perfects a faux-Brit,
Morrissey-inspired warble, adding another layer of frost to the window
pane of a lovelorn co-ed.
The Rhumb Line loses force toward the end, with songs like "Too Too Too Fast,"
falling victim to repetitive choruses. "Run My Mouth" features some of
the album's dreamiest strings, but Miles' oft-delicate quiver becomes
shouty and forced. But the ship does not capsize; The Rhumb Line instead drops anchor as a solid debut that beckons refinement and experimentation further down its course.