Ra Ra Riot has experienced constant change in its six-year existence, from commercial success and an aborted label deal to the 2007 death of drummer John Pike. But the band's sound has never shifted as radically as it does on its new album, Beta Love, which comes out Jan. 22. With the departure of cellist Alexandra Lawn — there's that constant change again — Ra Ra Riot shifts gears once more, dialing down the string arrangements in favor of a more synth-driven sound.
Inspired by the works of William Gibson (the inner lives of robots pop up several times, particularly in the title track heard here), Beta Love is a half-hour collection of light, tight, fizzy earworms. It's the sound of a band that's left a lot of its grandiosity behind, but Ra Ra Riot's intellectual curiosity remains intact. Compared to past songs like "Dying Is Fine" — with its gorgeous strings, E.E. Cummings quotes and dark rumination on mortality — "Beta Love" feels like an agreeably frothy trifle. But listen closely, and ideas still seep out amid the synths.
Beta Love comes out Jan. 22 on Barsuk Records.