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Album review: Ra Ra Riot, 'Beta Love'

**1/2 stars (out of four)

We all assumed, upon discovering Ra Ra Riot, that they were a synth pop band, right? Or at least some kind of thing you could play at parties?

It turned out they were actually a band with a string section, maybe best suited to soundtracking the kind of gathering where a guy traps you in a corner and talks about the novel he's working on--not riotous at all.

On their third album, "Beta Love," members of Ra Ra Riot have finally begun to embrace their destiny as, if not always a synth pop band, at least players of a decent party playlist who dabble in synth pop.

The band's cellist has left, and with her some of its defining sound--in this case, arguably a good thing. Ra Ra Riot takes the opportunity to try on the guises of many indie music peers, making songs that sound like, at turns, Of Montreal ("Binary Mind"), Passion Pit ("Beta Love"), Feist ("Is It Too Much"), Yeasayer ("Wilderness") and more. Highlight "That Much" calls to mind Fleetwood Mac with a drum machine, and this album is not entirely unlike that band's fragmented classic, "Tusk." There's a certain rewarding restlessness.

If you're going to put together that party playlist, though, it's hard to imagine why you would use many of these songs rather than the more competent counterparts they seem to echo. On the other hand, the tracks that do feel a little more distinctly Ra Ra Riot-y, like the jaunty "For Once," tend to be rote. It's not entirely clear what kind of band Ra Ra Riot is, maybe, but a little bit of confusion, in this case, is welcome.
Kyle Kramer is a RedEye special contributor. @redeyechimusic

See them live March 1 at Metro.

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