Ra Ra Riot’s sophomore disc, The Orchard, offers every bit of the rolling rural hills that its title suggests; with sky-wide, spacious arrangements, it’s a cool autumn cruise through the Adirondacks with the top down. Unfortunately, the record is too much forest and too few breathtaking mountaintop vistas. When the New York quintet really lets things soar off into the expanse, it makes beautiful, compelling music: “Boy” is a rollicking, bass-and-drum-driven number that waxes and wanes with an orchestral swell; “Shadowcasting” thumps to its own racing, uplifting pulse, swirling together clangy guitars and stringed crescendos before taking off on Wes Miles’ sailing vocals. But elsewhere, that affecting momentum is completely lost. Packed with mid-tempo ballads, The Orchard is largely unfocused, with foppish orchestration wandering aimlessly behind half-baked riffs, baroque in the most boring sense. It’s a shame, because in many ways, the band has matured impressively: Although the Vampire Weekend comparisons are sure to persist, Miles’ voice sounds more confident and lush than ever, and Gabriel Duquette’s stunningly complex percussion almost saves the more meandering tracks. The group’s style is perfectly suited to bright, carefree pop songs that surge with excitement and surprise; adapted for drawn-out atmospherics, the orchestral flourishes only feel listless and unnecessary. For a spontaneous country drive on a brisk October afternoon, however, The Orchard provides a few iPod essentials.
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