Ra Ra Riot's third studio album, 2013's Beta Love, finds the Syracuse outfit delivering an electronic, keyboard-heavy effort that still retains much of the melodic songcraft and orchestral influence that marked their previous work. Having parted ways with cellist Alexandra Lawn in 2012, Ra Ra Riot were surely at a creative crossroads during the recording of Beta Love. However, the remaining bandmembers (vocalist Wes Miles, violinist Rebecca Zeller, guitarist Milo Bonacci, and bassist Mathieu Santos) did not replace Lawn and instead traveled to the warmer climes of Missouri to work with producer/engineer Dennis Herring (Elvis Costello, Modest Mouse) and a handful of guest musicians on crafting a more experimental, synthesizer-based sound. With lyrics and songs inspired by a variety of future-looking sources including author/keyboard inventor Ray Kurzweil and writer William Gibson, Ra Ra Riot employed various synthesizers to complement their already innovative mix of rock and classical instrumentation. The result is that Beta Love, while clearly a move away from the precise chamber pop of 2010's Orchard, is still an immediately infectious, harmonically intriguing album that subtly incorporates Zeller's classically trained violin chops into an even more unified band sound. In fact, Zeller's shiny violin is employed so deftly here, often in tandem with the synth lines, that the focus ends up being more on the overall sound of a song than on any one aspect of an arrangement. Also still a focal point here is Miles' angelic, resonant tenor croon that, matched with lyrics that delve into alienation in a modern world, robot love, and the eternal question of whether or not Androids dream, works as an emotional core for the album. He coos on the ebullient closing track, "I Shut Off," "Who wants a human love? A Death trap? A Suicide club? I do... I do..." While there is definitely an atmospheric, introspective, and somewhat experimental quality to many of the songs on Beta Love, as on the yearning, lyrical ballad "When I Dream," it is undeniably a dance album. Cuts like the bouncy lead-off "Dance with Me" and the positively euphoric title track are wide-eyed, neon-colored anthems that seem to find the perfect balance between Michael Jackson's "Rock with You," ELO's "All Around the World," and Robyn's "Call Your Girlfriend." Which isn’t to say that the album sounds exactly like the work of any one of these artists in particular, but Beta Love does fit nicely alongside works by such similarly inclined contemporaries as Minus the Bear and Young Galaxy; bands who've explored synthesizers and '80s New Wave and adult contemporary as a way to expand their sonic palette. Ultimately though, whether robotic or human, binary or organic, it is Ra Ra Riot's gift for addictive, romantic songcraft that gives Beta Love its heart.
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AllMusic Review by Matt Collar