Two years after the modest success of The Rhumb Line, these Ithaca-based college chums have returned with a sleeker, more cerebral album that speaks to their post-grad sensibilities. The Orchard moves from the buoyant, winking pop of their freshman album toward a quieter introspection that makes the most of Wes Miles's delicate, oftimes lovely, voice.
The band's steps in the direction of indie maturity, and also the loss of the unchecked jubilation that marked some of their debut album's best tracks, can likely be attributed to Chris Walla. The Death Cab guitarist mixed nine of the 10 songs on the album, providing a restrained but steadying hand to Ra Ra Riot's innate sense of the emotive and atmospheric. Yet there's evidence that the band have drawn inspiration from influences all their own.
Peeking through the sweeping melodies is a decidedly '80s, Phil Collins vibe. Unexpected? Sure. Unwelcome? Not at all. "Too Dramatic" and "Shadowcasting" (especially the bonus-track remix of the latter) are infused with a pulsing rhythm reminiscent of a time when these young indie-rockers were still in diapers. And on "You and I Know," Alexandra Lawn emerges from behind her cello to prove that Miles isn't the only one here with vocal chops. The Orchard cracks open a window to dreamy possibilities.