Watching what was probably Ra Ra Riot’s tenth performance at last year’s CMJ festival, it became clear that the band would likely soon float to the top of the indie-rock canon. Frenzied vocalist/keyboardist Wesley Miles hurled himself into the crowd, followed by cellist Alexandra Lawn, in a whirlwind of energy, and the awestruck crowd reacted as if this was the first time this had happened at a concert. And with that, the hype wheels were in motion: NME proclaimed Ra Ra Riot as one of the five best acts of the festival, and various other drooling post-CMJ accolades quickly followed.
Hailing from all over but having formed while studying at Syracuse University, Ra Ra Riot is a ready-made indie star: driving guitars, swirling strings, vocals akin to an ’80s icon (Sting, this time). Given the members’ aptitude for what works right now, the unpolished texture of this six-song debut is a bit surprising. The EP has the feel of the flat, unproduced initial Arcade Fire EP. The songs are there, but like most first EPs by unsigned acts, they’re hard to hear, almost muted. It’s a shame, really, because the energy over these tracks conveys the rush of the band’s live show. They manage to shake off twee leanings — difficult with a cello and violin — to forge a rhythmic and urgent mood.
“Dying Is Fine,” the EP’s six-minute centerpiece, is driven by a strong rhythm section, heavy guitar, cutting cello and violin, and a memorable chorus. With a proper makeover it could have been a contender for song of the year. Most of the songs follow the same pattern of guitar and catchy, vocally driven melodies, with occasional slowed-down string interludes for pacing. Memorable and rather infectious, the EP feels like more of a demo — or perhaps a taste of what Ra Ra Riot will eventually present.
“Each Year” MP3: http://www.rarariot.com/audio/Ra%20Ra%20Riot%20-%20Each%20Year.mp3