The title of Ra Ra Riot's full-length debut, The Rhumb Line, is a nautical term, and there's a definite oceanic feel to the undulating cello, violin and bass lines found on the release. But it's clear that—unlike with other string-heavy collectives that use the nautical to quite literal ends (read: British Sea Power)—for Ra Ra Riot, the seas exist as a metaphor for the natural—and, at times, devastating—ebbs and flows of young life.
As such, The Rhumb Line is very much a solemn record (with a few exceptions), despite its bouncy backbeats. That makes sense; last summer, the Syracuse, New York-based sextet's 23-year-old drummer, John Pike, was found dead after apparently drowning late one night off the coast of Massachusetts. Given that much of The Rhumb Line is comprised of songs that Pike helped write, and that the band has earned consistent praise for its frenetic live sets, the somber feel seems somewhat ironic. Or perhaps cathartic: This effort, produced by Ryan Hadlock (The Gossip, Stephen Malkmus) is undoubtedly a more polished product than the group's 2007 eponymous EP.
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Lush standouts "Ghost Under Rocks," "Can You Tell" and "Dying Is Fine" provide deeper meaning this second time around; new effort "Suspended in Gaffa" similarly fits nicely in the package. But, oddly enough, the strongest effort is the peppiest of the bunch: "Too Too Too Fast" is a poppy affair more suited to the band's energetic live show.