When preparing for their fifth studio album, Superbloom, Ra Ra Riot mentioned in several interviews their intention to create an album worthy of lasting impact and an enjoyable listening experience. Front-man Wes Miles co-wrote two of the twelve songs with former Vampire Weekend guitarist Rostam Batmanglij, and in doing so, helped expand Ra Ra Riot’s repertoire and sound in general. Miles mentioned in an interview that the band wanted a “DIY, demo mindset” to many of these songs, yet Miles decided these demos that were recorded in his parents’ house were strong enough to be considered the final versions.
One of the first things listeners will notice on Superbloom is how the simple song structures and sounds make for a great experience. This breezy collection of twelve songs are all well thought out, and make a lot of sense cohesively as an album.
Kicking off the set with one of the first songs written for the record, “Flowers,” reminds long-time fans of the band who have been there since The Rhumb Line why this band is so endearing. A gentle opener , the song invites the fans to reminisce with Miles as he reflects on the past in the song’s chorus when he sings, “Do I wonder if I should have stayed?/Every night, every day/So don’t bring flowers to my grave/Say goodbye from far away.” The song, like many on this LP, never sound forced and instead come across as a band steadily gaining confidence with each album.
“Bad To Worse” definitely doesn’t live up to its track name as it turns out to be one of the better songs on the record. Featuring some more stellar falsetto vocals from Miles, the band feels to be in complete control from the get-go. Other songs such as “Belladonna” feature some cool vocal effects, well-placed keyboards and synths, and further expand upon the direction Ra Ra Riot have been tinkering with on past albums. Whereas Need Your Light paid homage to “legacy bands” such as Fleetwood Mac and Journey, Ra Ra Riot have crafted a collection of songs on Superbloom that are strong enough to stand on their merit.
My favorite song, “Endless Pain/Endless Joy,” is sandwiched right in the early-middle sequencing and features a great beat courtesy of drummer Kenny Bernard. The pulsating bass line from Mathieu Santos is incredibly unique, memorable, and serves plenty of purpose on the jam-band type of track that finds the band clicking as a unit. Miles’ vocal delivery is in his normal register as the group hums along, and I found the lyrics, “Endless pain, endless joy/I still haven’t found what I’m looking for/Endless pain, endless joy/Here I stand at the sandman’s door,” to be a subtle nod to the past of their U2-influences.
If the record has any lag to it, it falls around the middle section of the sequencing. “War & Famine” broods, rather than rocks, like the earlier composed tracks. “Bitter Conversation” instead features some Two Door Cinema Club-type of 80’s/new wave elements that bring the record back into focus. Shiny synths and confident vocals from Miles allow the song to be ready for the airwaves.
“This Time Of Year,” with its quirky background noises and keyboards, comes across an almost-Chicago type of song. Whether the band intended to continue to make clever nods to the past while experimenting with new sounds along the way, the track still clicks along with a calm confidence as they continue to expand upon the new direction.
“Dangerous,” on the flip side, sounds more modern, and would be best described as being the realm of dance-rock bands in today’s scene such as Walk the Moon. The brilliant falsetto vocals set this band apart from the latter, and this song turned out to be one of the more memorable tracks that kept me coming back for more on Superbloom.
“An Accident” features more synths that fans of the band have come to expect from the group, with some carefully placed acoustic guitar thrown into the mix. The song fits well as a near-album closer, as it allows for thoughtful reflection on the material that had come before it. Whereas the actual album ender, “A Check For Daniel” is a foot-to-the-floor, “stomper” of a track that has some back and forth vocals thrown into the chorus. While it initially reminded me of a throwback to quirky bands such as DEVO, I thought Ra Ra Riot’s style on the unique track still made the song worth having on the record.
Overall, Superbloom is a record you can throw on any mood, time of day, and find some enjoyable moments all over it. Whether you can accept the nods to the past, while the band looks to the future for inspiration, the concept of the record is still a blast. Ra Ra Riot have made an album worthy of our attention, even if they were able to grab some key cogs of past artists’ repertoire to make it their own.