When Ra Ra Riot released The Rhumb Line in 2008, they sounded like a thinking man’s pop band: quirky, melodic, and unconventionally chic, with a small string section that lent a sense of sophistication to the band’s sound. They wrote straightforward songs and performed them with complex arrangements, each member limiting his or her own parts to allow room for the cello, violin, and guitar lines to breathe. On their sophomore effort, though, the musicians sound a little too bogged down by their own cleverness. The Orchard is like The Rhumb Line without the poppy punch; it’s brainy and classy, but it requires its audience to put their own thinking caps instead of their dancing shoes. Individually speaking, the bandmates all sound stronger this time around. Bassist Mathieu Santos plays his instrument like he’s part of the string section, darting his way up and down the scale while still rooting the chords, and frontman Wes Miles sings like an indie choir boy raised on Smiths records. Something happens when all the pieces fit together, though, and the result is a knotted record on which the highlights (“Too Dramatic,” “Shadowcasting”) are split up by less kinetic songs. Maybe the guys have started looking to their contemporaries for influence -- “Massachusetts” couldn’t sound more like Vampire Weekend if it wore an Oxford shirt and graduated from Columbia -- or maybe they purposely set out to create a headier, introspective, and altogether more challenging record. In either event, The Orchard doesn’t go down as easily as The Rhumb Line did, even though it still has some satisfying moments.
AllMusic Review by Andrew Leahey