Beta Love: honey, where'd you put the Ra Ra Riot?

It was mid-November when I first heard the title track, "Beta Love"; 20 seconds in, I'd forgotten what Ra Ra Riot used to sound like. Their evolution, for lack of a better descriptor, has been positively brill. Maybe this round doesn't strike your fancy, but regardless, they've executed it well. Wes Miles sings dancepop better than dancepop sings dancepop on this album. It starts strong; the first track opens with a vocal solo before every other percussion gimmick joins in. "Come and dance with me, you bittersweet fool; I wanna be your toy, I wanna be your toy" is a dead giveaway that they're really just messing with us. But we'll gladly accept a light-hearted album in the middle of winter.

"Binary Mind" oscillates between big smirks and genuine smiles. The single snare bounces are unexpected, adding about fifty dimensions to the effective, but pedestrian handclaps. I gushed about the next song already, but the string arrangement on "Beta Love" complements Miles's warm vocals possessively. The sweet lounge keys and drums on "Is It Too Much" make elevator music appealing. Bisecting the album, is some sort of fun./Hot Chelle Rae/Phoenix hybrid transition (blame it on the strings, but it's not a bad sound).

And then, out of nowhere, "What I Do For U" brings sexy back. Urban Riot's got dat wobbly bass, give-me-everything lyrics, and a sparkling falsetto. Sadly, the most diverting track on Beta Love is also the shortest. It segues into a soulful ballad in the form of "When I Dream" where the vibes and strings meet in a frozen, slow-mo collision. Cue fireworks.

If there's any hesitation to drop their previous sound at all, it's exhibited in the final sets. "Wilderness" is silver screen material (can you see/hear the time lapse potential? Take a minute and mute the following: snowscapes, artsy waterfalls, Manhattanhenge... its possibilities are endless.) My only complaint is that the 11-track, 30-minute album ends too abruptly. Beta Love is short and sweet, but there are several moments which could've been further explored and extended.

In the past, Ra Ra Riot (and The Dears and Freelance Whales, if I may so casually group them together) has reminded me of rivers and of 19th century prairie schooners. They've been cute, holding my interest briefly with each new release. The Rhumb Line a little, The Orchard more, and this time, they've my full attention. They sound happy. There's not a wayward track on this album, and while I'd love to see more of this synth-based Ra Ra Riot, I think I'd rather see what they do next. But we're getting ahead of ourselves.

For now, let us bask in the paradise sun. (Sorry Catherine MacLellan, it looks like I'll be playing Beta Love on the East Coast drive, weather be damned.)