What? In navigational terms, a rhumb line is a path of constant bearing. Given Ra Ra Riot’s brief but turbulent history, it seems only fitting they name their debut after a fixed point that won’t let you lose your way. That much is true of The Rhumb Line, out August 19 on Barsuk. Here, the chamber-pop outfit expertly guides its mischievous, youthful interpretation of indie rock around dueling violin and cello strings. The result is an album comprised of ten new-wave-meets-orchestral tracks that range from ebullient come-ons to studied hymns of grief. These highs and lows are as much of a product of circumstance as they are an instrumental release: While their self-titled EP was in the making, Ra Ra Riot’s drummer, John Pike, passed away. The former sextet has since soldiered on as a five-piece, recording The Rhumb Line with producer Ryan Hadlock (Gossip, Blonde Redhead, Islands).
Who? Ra Ra Riot began as a college band, so it’s hardly surprising they formed out of chance circumstances. At Syracuse University during the winter of 2006, guitarist Milo Bonacci met violinist Rebecca Zeller in an electronic music class, and she pulled in classical ensemble pal and cellist Alexandra Lawn. Bassist Mathieu Santos had been in one of Bonacci’s earlier projects, and Pike, who was a veteran drummer on campus, recommended his friend Wesley Miles (keyboards, vocals). After playing every possible local venue — and house party — the mostly-graduated group departed Syracuse for a U.S. tour backing Editors and Tokyo Police Club.
Fun Fact: Ra Ra Riot totally has a thing for Kate Bush covers. Their “Hounds of Love” has long been a live favorite, and The Rhumb Line features an earnest version of the English singer/songwriter’s theatrical “Suspended in Gaffa.”
Now Hear This: Ra Ra Riot, “Dying is Fine”(DOWNLOAD MP3)