At the opening strains of violin and cello found in the opening and title track of Ra Ra Riot's The Orchard – released on August 24 – a listener might believe they have stumbled into a continuation of last week's review from Sufjan Stevens. With its tight orchestration by violinist Rebecca Zeller and cellist Alexandria Lawn buoying the A.C. Newman-via-Sting vocals of Wes Miles, the number is reflective of Stevens' mellower work or perhaps the similar opening track of fun.'s Aim & Ignite, "Be Calm." Regardless, its a somber but haunting location to begin an album.
Still, anyone familiar with the Syracuse-based sextet's 2008 debut, The Rhumb Line will feel more comfortable with the record's second cut, "Boy." Borrowing heavily from the joint 80's influences of U2 – perhaps directing a nod to that group's debut release with the song's title – and Miles wailing pointing to the Sting-led Police, the number is bouncy and rubbery with the counterbalancing bass line of Mathieu Santos and guitarist Milo Bonacci's riffs recalling plenty of Andy Summers and The Edge. Meanwhile, the work of Zeller and Lawn offers a nice change of pace to the reggae undertones.
They keep up the brisk tempo with tracks like "Too Dramatic" – with just a hint of Metric-style rhythmicism – and "Massachusetts" flavored by Vampire Weekend's recent efforts with a little less of the hipster veneer. The latter's influence on the record is a bit more direct, as Vampire Weekend co-songwriter Rostam Batmanglij lends his hands at the mixing board on the track. At the same time, the resonating piano strains of "Foolish" prevents things from skipping off into the ether through its staccato ballad format.
As successfully as Miles' lead parts rest atop the group's instrumental talents, the true gem of the collection is Alexandra Lawn's turn at the helm of "You and I Know." Blending the earthy tones of a young Stevie Nicks with a more contemporary sound of a Eleanor Whitmore or Kathryn Caldwell, Lawn strikes the perfect balance on the midtempo number. Let's hope we'll hear more of her – perhaps in tandem with Miles – in future offerings, because a late 70's-sounding Sting/Stevie Nick collaboration would have been hard to resist.
Come for: "Boy"
Stay for: "Massachusetts"
You'll be surprised by "You and I Know"