Personnel: Wes Miles (vocals); Milo Bonacci (guitar); Rebecca Zeller (violin); Mathieu Santos (bass guitar); Kenneth Bernard (drums).
Recording information: Bear Creek Studios; Echo Park Backhouse Studios; Vox Studios.
Photographer: Jared Chambers.
Despite having begun life as an indie outfit featuring two string players, Syracuse's Ra Ra Riot transformed into a synth-heavy, dance-oriented ensemble after the departure of cellist Alexandra Lawn in 2010. Following up 2013's Beta Love, the group's fourth album, 2016's Need Your Light, finds the quartet of lead singer/keyboardist Wes Miles, violinist Rebecca Zeller, guitarist Milo Bonacci, and bassist Mathieu Santos building upon that synth pop sound with a buoyant, infectious batch of songs that better balances their love of analog keyboards with their orchestral roots. Produced by former Vampire Weekend guitarist Rostam Batmanglij, Need Your Light feels bigger, looser, and more organically robust than Beta Love. While there is a bright studio sheen to the album, many of the cuts, including "Foreign Lovers" and the driving U2-influenced title track, sound as if they could have been recorded live in one take. Furthermore, while tracks like "Bad Times," "Instant Breakup," and the proggy, Peter Gabriel-esque "Bouncy Castle" are built around buzzy '80s synths, kinetic beats, and driving, low-end basslines, there's just enough of Zeller's warm violin to keep things from ever getting too icy. Similarly, Miles, pushing his angelic, highly resonant voice to its limit here, has never sounded more aggressively enthused. Cuts like the driving "Call Me Out" and "Absolutely," though in no way slavish retro re-creations, do bring to mind the soaring arena power of bands like Journey, and wouldn't sound out of place on an '80s Jefferson Starship album. Ultimately, Need Your Light is an ambitious, thrilling album, full of songs that aim to grab your heart as well as your ears. ~ Matt Collar