Synth pop. New wave. Dance punk. Three related, overlapping genres that, among other things, share an emphasis on the melding of the natural and the artificial. A lot of bands dabble in this territory; successful bands find the right balance.
DC stalwarts Ra Ra Rasputin have perfected their formula on their long-awaited debut. After developing as a live entity over the last few years, the band recorded their self-titled record, leaning heavily on the “dance” portion of their “dance punk” formulation.
The albums opens with a razor-sharp synth line and some David Byrne-styled vocals on “Stereocutter.” Swirls and swells of synthesizer dominate “Neon Scthye,” a song propelled by full low-end bass. This one-two punch sets the album’s tone.
Densely layered, lush compositions balance the cold, monotonic vocals of Brock Boss throughout the album. Something that stands out and differentiates the album from the band’s live performances is the house vibe. The band is unafraid to jam over an extended loop for spacey dance breaks; “Fit Fixed” devolves into a seductive house jam that will be a lot of fun live.
Compared to the rest of the album, “The Day Of” is a bit more aggressive, with plenty of cow bell and more emphasis on Patrick Kigongo’s guitar. It also features a revealing chorus that says a lot about where the band is coming from, musically: “I’ve got love for you if you survived in the 80s.” (This performance doesn’t show the band’s trademark energy, but I suspect it’s because they’re playing to an empty newsroom and not a crowd.)
The standout track is “Electricity Through the Heart,” due in large part to the addition of vocals provided by Anna Rozzi. The song is reminiscent of art-punks Pretty Girls Make Graves; it’s available for free on the band’s website.
Comparisons to contemporaries Cut Copy, Hot Chip, and Delorean are apt, but the sonic godfather of Ra Ra Rasputin is Depeche Mode. The band has the neon glow of the 80s locked down, with enough modern touches to make a well-worn style sound fresh and vibrant. Unfortunately, the album is missing the hooks that put the “pop” in “synth pop.” Still, it’s an impressive, well-produced debut from a promising DC band.
Three out of five stars.
Catch Ra Ra Rasputin at the Black Cat on October 9th for their joint record release party with Casper Bangs.