At first listen, six college friends from Syracuse in a band that consists of a cello and violin do not sound like the makings of a rock group. Two years after the fairly widespread success of their 2008 debut album The Rhumb Line, Ra Ra Riot returns with the preppy-pop sophomore release The Orchard.
Consisting of melancholic melodies and the occasional energetic burst of rhythm, The Orchard has all the ingredients any fan of baroque pop would salivate over. But the lyrical depth of its predecessor, The Rhumb Line, that late drummer John Ryan Pike largely co-wrote, is lacking.
The album's title track starts out as a soothing and hypnotic tune as lead vocalist Wesley Miles croons lyrics like, "My life is dull/And my body aches," tempting listeners to curl up with an ice-cold glass of water and fall asleep to the somber melody. Strings of the band's symphonic instruments hum rhythmically in the background, creating a serene listening environment. But as The Orchard progresses, fans will be pleased to hear more enthusiastic tracks, such as the vivacious bassline-driven "Boy" and the spirited, '80s pop inspired "Foolish."
However, the overall energetic and carefree sound Ra Ra Riot has orchestrated on its second release is all too familiar. Although entertaining, the whimsical salute to New England, "Massachusetts," has an uncanny resemblance to what could have been a Vampire Weekend B-side, while other tracks, like "Shadowcasting" and "Do You Remember", appear to be nearly the same song.
Ra Ra Riot has not necessarily produced a knockout with The Orchard, but the album is no sophomore slump, either. There is no denying the melodies are catchy and songs like "Too Dramatic" make for great foot-tapping jams, but the lack of variety hinders Ra Ra Riot from producing anything different from the works of most indie-pop groups out there.
Collectively, The Orchard might not make a significant statement, but Ra Ra Riot has captured enough of a pleasant sound to establish the album as a somewhat-satisfying soundtrack for the lazy days of summer.