Back towards the end of the 2000s, Ra Ra Riot occupied a curious space in music. Following the explosion and slow fizzling out of nu-rave (which historians are still trying to understand to this day), a glut of experimental indie pop bands started to emerge, almost exclusively from New York.
Vampire Weekend, Yeasayer, Dirty Projectors and Ra Ra Riot all mixed traditional indie rock with a baroque feel. It was the sort of music that sounded like it’d feel as at home being played on a cross-country drive with the top down as it would in a weird, forward-thinking 18th century parlour.
Ra Ra Riot’s debut The Rhumb Line, however, felt distinctly theirs. And yet, since then, they seemed to take a back seat, creating albums that felt more and more forgettable. While their peers rose to greater heights, they faded into obscurity; a name to appear on “50 indie bands from the 2000s you might’ve forgotten” lists.
Though their fourth album, Need Your Light, isn’t going to put them back up on top, it’s still a delightful reminder of that very specific period in musical history. Just one listen to the fantastic Rostam Batmanglij-produced “Water” is like stepping into a time machine.
It never feels like two steps backwards either. In reclaiming that bubbly, house party vibe they seem to have tapped back into what made them special in the first place. The arms-aloft joy of “Absolutely” with it’s chorus of “Absolutely/crushing/absolutely/everything” is absolutely infectious while the bubbling basslines and synths of “Bouncy Castle”, a track about erections of all things, is out-and-out fun.
The problem is that there’s this undeniable nagging throughout the whole album that, once the fun stops, you’ll probably forget about it. Beyond the aforementioned tracks and the galloping “Instant Breakup”, there’s not much here that has that same instant connection that the likes of the math rock tinged “Dying Is Fine” provided.
Still, Need Your Light is a heck of a lot of fun while it lasts and, though there’s little to make you crawl back to it time and time again, it has that same appeal of flicking through a photo album and getting the rush of nostalgia for times long gone and, for that alone, it’s worth something.