Opener "Water" and "I Need Your Light" were produced by former Vampire Weekend member Rostam Batmanglij, and hint at their musical influence; the latter uses percussion in a way that could be described as clamouring, out of place even, but the carol-style vocals at the song's end give it an angelic edge and allude to the titular light. The climax and buildup of the track make for a beautiful, unique ending that sets it apart from the rest of the pack.
As the years have gone by, Ra Ra Riot have become less dependent on their string section, which now consists solely of violinist Rebecca Zeller. While the unfortunate lack of prominent violin interludes will be missed by fans of the band's early days, their use of synths and a more pervasive guitar sound on "Bad Times" and "Foreign Lovers" are two of the strongest points on Need Your Light. "Bouncy Castle" is strange but cute, with bubbly electronic tones and layered vocals; the result is a kind of date anthem for the cutesy. Finally, "Suckers" is the epitome of indie-rock bubble gum pop.
Need Your Light is certainly a step up from Beta Love, but Ra Ra Riot are missing the orchestral edge that originally set them apart from other groups in their genre, making it feel inessential despite being quite likeable.
Though their fourth album, Need Your Light, isn’t going to put them back up on top, it’s still a delightful reminder of that very specific period in musical history. Just one listen to the fantastic Rostam Batmanglij-produced “Water” is like stepping into a time machine.
It never feels like two steps backwards either. In reclaiming that bubbly, house party vibe they seem to have tapped back into what made them special in the first place. The arms-aloft joy of “Absolutely” with it’s chorus of “Absolutely/crushing/absolutely/everything” is absolutely infectious while the bubbling basslines and synths of “Bouncy Castle”, a track about erections of all things, is out-and-out fun.
The problem is that there’s this undeniable nagging throughout the whole album that, once the fun stops, you’ll probably forget about it. Beyond the aforementioned tracks and the galloping “Instant Breakup”, there’s not much here that has that same instant connection that the likes of the math rock tinged “Dying Is Fine” provided.
Still, Need Your Light is a heck of a lot of fun while it lasts and, though there’s little to make you crawl back to it time and time again, it has that same appeal of flicking through a photo album and getting the rush of nostalgia for times long gone and, for that alone, it’s worth something.