Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Sound engineering by Brad Kopplin
There are few things as precarious as future living, or hanging onto the tantalizing promise of future living, of clinging to the very essence of getting past today and into something that is completely unknown and unmapped. People get stopped in their tracks. They get paused or blown back five steps into all of the mire that they've already trudged through, thick in the boots with the grime and the predictability that comes with spinning wheels and little to no progression to speak of. It gets to everyone. It's the easiest way to get worn out, to become despondent and discouraged. If one day leads to the next and the next and the next without variation, the procedure of bucking up and staying on the cheery side of the line feels like an unwinnable game of tug-o-war.
Syracuse, New York's Ra Ra Riot are expressive about the need to find strength in those unmapped, untraceable moments to be - or perhaps it's just that desire they have to give themselves over to the unwarranted odds and their blinding speeds that make them sound like the realist optimists out there. The music on the band's debut full-length is equally inclusive of dismay and rapturous enthusiasm, the sweet and booming kind that comes when something's game-winning or when there's a downpour in warm temperatures and no one is trying to keep their clothing, shoes or hair dry or clean. They just let the storm soak them down to the bone, sod up whatever they're wearing, fill those shoes with a squishy half-gallon of precipitation and make their shirts weigh as much as two coats of chainmail. In a second, they'll be inside again, sitting around in dry clothes that never felt happier, socks that never felt better on the feet. The good feelings came from something that half of those people caught out in the burst were cursing under and over their breath. It could have been taken a different way. It could have been taken with a shrug of insignificance. It could have been worse.
Ra Ra Riot are six young people that have been through a documented lot since they began playing together just over two years ago, but they look at the sadness that they've had to collectively and individually endure in that period of time and they've chosen to make something of it that most people wouldn't. Most would fold and just wave a white flag, reduced to conceding that there are forces working against them now and into the foreseeable future, but this band has tipped its cap to the ugly misfortune and suggested that there will be a second act, an unseen twist full of matured emotions, unwavering solidarity and confetti. It is not because of tragedy that Ra Ra Riot has the voice and the meritorious cheer of a group of people who have been through a tornado, seen that they didn't just lose a couple shingles, but experienced a total loss, then reconstituted and built the home right back up from the ground floor, using their own swinging arms, sweat and care to do it.
The way that lead singer Wes Miles leads this pack - Milo Bonacci on guitar, Alexandra Lawn on cello, Mathieu Santos on bass, Rebecca Zeller on violin - into these odes to friendship and persevering on through the thorns and thistles is inspired. His lucid and yet feverish pacing is everything that you'd want out of someone trying to and successfully conveying the fleeting quality of the air hanging heavily as well as the fleeting quality of the air and the breeze having dimples, hanging lovingly splashy and light. The songs on The Rhumb Line fall to the center, the eye of the storm, where there's negotiable immunity if a steady step is kept. Miles sings as if he's constantly looking out over a frozen-over lake, mourning the lack of movement, the lack of color and then he snaps out of it and realizes - along with the help of his buddies - that ice melts and blooms bustle again with popping color. It just takes time - something that we all hope to have coming to us. Not knowing if we do makes everything as immediate and as reluctantly joyful as Ra Ra Riot points out.
Ra Ra Riot Official Site