Thursday, October 23, 2008

Ra Ra Riot - The Rhumb Line

I live in a city affectionately called La-La Land. It's a fitting moniker for a number of reasons. Having been born and raised in a northern Virginia suburb of Washington, D.C. (which according to John McCain's adviser Nancy Pfotenhauer isn't "real" Virginia) I have seen and experienced things (sometimes) ridiculously out of my definition of ordinary that I'm still compelled to write many of them down. (For the record, as stupid as it was for Pfothjzsdkjbsjer to characterize Virginia as 2 different states - not counting WEST Virginia - she was merely speaking the truth. If you drive more than an 90 minutes in any southern direction from Fairfax County I promise you will see what "real" Virginia is made of....lots of horses, hicks, Cracker Barrels, etc.) For instance, everyone knows that in L.A. you are required to drive everywhere. This is mostly true. I honestly don't mind the amount (miles) I drive on a weekly basis. The aggravating part is the time spent in the car. At home, 5 miles is about a 15-20min. drive. In L.A. those same 5 miles take at least twice that much time if you're lucky. I also had to quickly learn that there is no end to "rush hour". In order to understand this, you also have to know that no one works in L.A. Meaning, there are so many out of work actors or people whose job it is to shuttle things around town there is always traffic. Certain times are heavier and the only times to get on the freeways are between 10pm and 6am. All of this free time has to be put to good use. I don't recommend texting or using your BlackBerry because you will rear-end someone (not to mention the Govenator signed legislature outlawing it beginning in 2009). I use the time to listen to new music. Depending on the commute I can almost listen to an entire album on one leg, and have a repeat listen on the way home. Most recently I've been "spinning" Ra Ra Riot's debut album The Rhumb Line on my iPod. This is somewhat of a weird coincidence because the band was formed at Syracuse University, and many of my friends out here also went there. Incidentally, they either knew people in the band, saw them play at someone's house party, or some facsimile thereof.

Ra Ra Riot (in my mind) is a thinking-man's Vampire Weekend. It's probably because some lyrical content is inspired by e.e. cummings and not ruminations on oxford commas. But it's also due to the strings of cellist Alexandra Lawn and violinist Rebecca Zeller who artfully alternate between staccato (short) and legato (long) lines depending on the mood and nature of the song. There debut album comes at a perfect time after Vampire Weekend's rapid ascent and subsequent backlash among the snotty tastemakers. The reason for the "delay" is actually a tragic one. The band's original drummer John Pike died tragically in June of 2007 after disappearing one night after a show in Providence, RI. His body was found later in nearby Buzzard's Bay. No one would have blamed the mourning bandmates for calling it quits there and then, but the resilient group issued a statement saying they would continue. Honoring their friend, many of the The Rhumb Line's songwriting credits go in their entirety or partially to Pike. The 10 tracks take up about 37 minutes. It's another one of those albums without any weaknesses and can be listened to front to back. The backstory with the band and the adversity they've managed to get through is inspiring and lends even more emotional weight to songs like "Dying is Fine" and "Ghost Under Rocks." Having listened to the band's 2007 EP as well, this debut album is much more polished and focused than that EP. With some songs crossing over from the EP to the album you can hear the effects of having time in a studio and a good producer. It's an album that makes me forget about sitting in crappy traffic for an hour trying to go (ostensibly) down the street.

"Can You Tell"

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