Not since The Decemberists has a band sent me to a dictionary to look up a word, but in the case of Ra Ra Riot‘s first full-length album, The Rhumb Line, I decided it was time to brush off the old dictionary and figure out the significance of this album title. If you are in the dark like I was, trusty dictionary.com (okay, maybe I didn’t do any dusting off any old dictionaries) states that a rhumb line “is the path taken by a vessel. . .that maintains a constant compass direction.”
After learning what it meant, I could not think of a better title for this uprising band’s first album. In 2007, co-founder of the band and original drummer, John Pike mysteriously died. With the loss of such an important member, the future of the band was uncertain, but the group had already embarked on this musical journey and opted to not waver from their path or “rhumb line.”
Listening to the band, it is apparent how important the idea of the consistency of a “rhumb line” is to them. They unwaveringly deliver a great live show and the energy and enthusiasm of the group constantly shines through on the album.
The Rhumb Line starts off with the warm tones of cellist Alexandra Lawn joined by the pizzicato of violinist Rebecca Zeller on the cinematic “Ghost Under Rocks.” The warmth of these instruments becomes increasingly important as the album develops, especially on “Winter ’05,” where the warm tone of the strings gives the illusion of sitting by a hearth after riding in a sleigh as simulated by the percussion.
With the warmth of the strings, my main criticism of this album is that too often vocalist Wes Miles‘ voice comes off with a metallic twang. His vocals are impressive on songs like “Oh, La” where his range is as diverse as the band’s dynamics, but the metallic twang from production does have a tendency to detract from the overall cohesiveness.
Although many of the songs previously appeared on the group’s EP, there are some really good surprises. This album is worth checking out simply for the shockingly good cover of Kate Bush‘s “Suspended in Gaffa” in which Miles’ voice is the perfect fit. I might even be so bold as to say I like their cover better than the original.
The Rhumb Line is released by Barsuk Records on August 19, 2008. The band is embarking on a headlining tour to support the album’s release.
01. Ghost Under Rocks
02. Each Year
03. St. Peter’s Day Festival
04. Winter ’05
05. Dying Is Fine
06. Can You Tell
07. Too Too Too Fast
08. Oh, La
09. Suspended in Gaffa
10. Run My Mouth
Written by: Bethany