On their woefully underrated first two albums, Ra Ra Riot worked their trademark art-pop sweet spot, layering emotive strings and dexterous rhythms underneath Wes Miles's handsome, boy-next-door vibrato. But mere seconds into "Beta Love," the bone-rattling electro-pop title track from their weirdest, hookiest album yet, the quartet flaunts a pair of head-scratching new influences: robots and Katy Perry. Brash new-wave synths erupt like landmines over a four-on-the-floor heartbeat, as Mathieu Santos crashes the party with a wiggly high-octave bassline: "I might be a prototype," Miles pleads, "but we're both real inside!" Ra Ra Riot have never exactly been the cool kids at the indie-rock lunch table; they're a bookish breed, and their sophisticated reference points (Peter Gabriel, Kate Bush, Genesis) are a liability for the restless iPhone crowd. By splitting the difference between modern Top 40 and their dusty vinyl collections, Beta Love is the best of both worlds: surprisingly slick and danceable, while subtly amplifying their art-school charm. One catalyst for this reinvention was a line-up shift — after touring behind 2010's The Orchard, drummer Gabrielle Duquette and longtime cellist Alexandra Lawn fled for greener pastures, leaving Ra Ra Riot in a sonic pickle. Less synthetic or weighed down by constant orchestrations, Beta Love feels like a fleshed-out sequel to LP, Miles's 2009 electro-soul collaboration with Vampire Weekend's Rostam Batmanglij. Rebecca Zeller still adds plenty of weaving violin lines, but she chooses her moments judiciously: adding an atmospheric punch on the bridge of "Binary Mind," offsetting Milo Bonacci's demented guitar crunch, and hovering ominously in the background of the brooding 808 sucker punch "When I Dream." Even the band's missteps (the corn-tastic Disney Channel–soundtrack vibe of "Dance with Me," the undercooked electro-diddle "Wilderness") feel like tentative toe-dips into exciting new waters. The Riot, my friends, rage on — this time in neon.
RYAN REED » RREED6128@HOTMAIL.COM
RA RA RIOT + GUARDS:: Paradise Rock Club, 967 Comm Ave, Boston :: January 26 :: 8 pm :: 18+ :: $20 :: 617.562.8800 or thedise.com