Ra Ra Riot and Vampire Weekend: The Sound & Discovery

Upon hearing Ra Ra Riot for the first time, we here at Indie Blog Shot were convinced that we were listening to a new album of Vampire Weekend, one that had not yet been released, only to realize that within our own music archive we had discovered Ra Ra Riot. The similarity of both bands sound was unmistakable. These two bands have an unmistakably similar sound and are very much each others contemporaries’. After confusing Ra Ra Riot with Vampire Weekend, we here at Indie Blog Shot were soon surprised by news of the recent collaboration between members of the two bands, Wes Miles (Ra Ra Riot) and Rostam Batmanglij (Vampire Weekend). Over the next three days we will first try to become more familiar with these bands, then try to determine who came first and which is better. Not only that, we are going to look at a collaboration between the bands in what seems like a natural partnership born out of commonality - Discovery.

Both Vampire Weekend and Ra Ra Riot formed in the great State of New York in 2006 while attending collage, one at Columbia and the other at Syracuse State. The only other thing they seem to have in common is that both bands toured Europe before either of them released an album.

A little bit more back ground is needed about these bands, first up Ra Ra Riot. Ra Ra Riot has had a much more subdued reception in comparison to the Vampire Weekend. The band has faced tragedy during its few years of existence. Already losing one of their band members to drowning, drummer John Ryan Pike, Ra Ra Riot has been more plagued with being notorious than notable. The band’s lyrics, sung by Wes Miles, speak volumes and are accompanied very naturally by violin and cello. Their debut album The Rhumb Line is populated with tracks executed with ease though the skill involved in performing them may be greater than the seeming simplicity that each song may let on. The band has been featured in major music magazines and has been on tour with bands such as Death Cab For Cutie and Vampire Weekend, to name a few.

The self titled debut album of Vampire Weekend was widely accepted among indie band aficionados and average music lovers alike, having a style and freshness that we really had not seen in quite some time. With the incorporation of intricate piano parts and a little bit of harpsichord, Vampire Weekend made a unique impact on listeners… or so it would seem. As a kind of intellectual’s pop rock with its’ sweeping visuals and vocabulary more akin to a foul mouthed English major than a pop artist, Vampire Weekend captured the attention and adoration of fans, and those fans would go on to help propel the band to further success via personal blogs and websites. Vampire Weekend had “gone viral” by the end of the summer in 08’ and was plastered all over prestige music magazines like Rolling Stone and Spin, all claiming Vampire Weekend as thee band to watch out for. You can not complain about this reception because they were right. The believers were vindicated, the album is accepted as a piece of pop rock excellence, every track is worth a listen.
Billy Corgan of the Smashing Pumpkins once said after the release of Zeitgeist that there is no more room for full length albums in the music industry any more; it’s an industry of singles sold or stolen over the internet… or something to that affect. He was wrong. In blaming the music industry Corgan said more about himself and his disbelief that his grunge era music had lost its relevance with today’s music listener. The reality of Zeitgeist was that its content could not live up to its title. But let’s bring it back to Vampire Weekend. How is their album a kind of ideological rebuff to his statement? Well, in part the album as a whole really is the draw, every song has something new to offer and each song is worth multiple listens. It wasn’t the single A-Punk that won people over. It was in hearing the rest of the album that is the full album. This is where people became excited over the band, in hearing that the album was not skip button heavy. In fact it was a no skip no miss album, solid through and through. But what of Ra Ra Riot, are they the cheap knockoff or could it be they are the original, the keepers of the flame?
Let’s clear something up first, who came first? Now both bands formed at around the same time in 2006. Well, Ra Ra Riot recorded their first EP in January 2007 and then released it in July of the same year. The sound of Ra Ra Riot goes further back than their six-song EP. You see the same EP was originally self-released by the band before they signed with The Rebel Group for distribution which released it to the masses. On the other side of the coin Vampire Weekend released its first EP "Mansard Roof" released on October 23rd of 2007. An entire summer had passed with Ra Ra Riot out there for everyone to enjoy, even longer if you count their earlier attempt at a self release. All the while Vampire Weekend hadn’t released a thing.
So, who influenced who? It seems clear that if they were both in the same New York indie music scene the older band would have influenced the younger. We can only really speculate on where the original influence for the musical sound that both bands seem to share.
Which is better though? Ra Ra Riot is for lack of a better term a synth rock with strings, but this band offers a kind of honest emotional experience which often comes off as phony in more popular band’s songs. The track Can You Tell off of The Rhumb Line touts a fantastic line in which the lead singer exclaims “my beds to big for just me”, coming from a lowly indie band-er it conveys a real sense of longing. The beds of these band mates are most likely, less empty these days, but that doesn’t take away from the original sentiment of the lyrics. That is what really separates the bands Ra Ra Riot and Vampire Weekend from one another. Vampire Weekend has such a laid back feel to it, you almost feel that the listener is lost in the songs causally listened to while sleeping on your campus balcony, while Ra Ra Riot instills a much deeper sense of meaning in their lyrics. Other than the pleasant incorporation of steel drums in some of the songs which populate the track list of Vampire Weekend’s album, Ra Ra Riot is the wins out.

We know who came first, now what would you do if someone had made some of your sound that impacted the world and you did not receive any of the credit? Apparently the lead singer of Ra Ra Riot is more evolved than the rest of us, because instead of beating the members of Vampire Weekend over the head with some form of blunt object, he decided to make music with them. If one had to choose between the two bands, Ra Ra Riot would have to come out on top in terms of content and sheer ingenuity, they are the better band. As a kind of climax to the bands similarity the two have made a collaboration in Discovery.
The Discovery LP is the collective realization of the two bands. What they have created is not what you would expect as a listener of both bands, with a very heavy electro feel to it you might be feeling confused when listening to the collaborative effort. As the union between the producer/ keyboardist of Vampire Weekend Rostam Batmanglij and the lead singer of Ra Ra Riot Wes Miles you would expect a kind of manic mix of the two bands, not so. Apparently, when you mix the bands together you get a trippy version of Moby, but with better vocals. The 10 track LP is filled with electronic sounds that are more fitting the club than coeds pre-class ear buds, the fact is this album would make Benny Banazi proud. For followers of the bands they might find themselves longing for the original more organic sounds of the members’ main bands. Discovery is more of a response to the electronica sounds of bands such as MGMT and Passion Pit. This album holds its ground against those mentioned bands combining Wes Miles voice with Rostam Batmanglij electronic take on music. There is even a remix of one of Ra Ra Riot’s best tracks, Can You Tell re-titled and packaged in Can You Discover?. The album is well sung and well put together and it speaks to the fans of this reemerging genre. And in its own way, does incorporate some of the elements that made us so attracted to Vampire Weekend and Ra Ra Riot. Nevertheless, the album bodes well for both bands as an expression of their artistic cooperation and creativity.
Release date July 7th
Track List: Discovery LP
Orange Shirt
Osaka Loop Line
Can You Discover
I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend
So Insane
Swing Tree
I want You Back
It’s not my Fault (It’s My Fault)
Slang Tang

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