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Album Review: Ra Ra Riot - Superbloom

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Superbloom's cover art is a pixelated array of flowers foregrounded by a pink and yellow box with the title laid out in a list that fades line-by-line. These hues and textures find their way into the album in upbeat melodies and zesty synthesisers as Ra Ra Riot’s atypical baroque-pop blossoms into psychedelia, blues, and punk.

Yet these are matured in a more subdued fashion that the cover evokes as these flowers are uprooted and trampled into an earthier, darker mulch. Superbloom traces roots established in various places, from cities to the West Country, and even underground. 

Album Art 'Superbloom' (2019)

The first single released, the baroque-meets-country ‘Flowers’, begins with the subconscious, underground world of “dreaming”.  Its muted chorus takes a “goodbye from far away” stance, telling a past lover not to put “flowers to my grave”. Like most of the album, flowers seem to be stripped from their habitat. With five-note violin crescendos, the tune mourns for an “old house”. 

Driven by muddy synth basslines, ‘Bad to Worse’ is a sluggish listen that is only partly alleviated by lighter melodies. The track features angelic vocals, honky-tonk piano, and layered harmonies - a split from the heavier “half” that “knows it’s gonna get dark”.

Named after a deadly nightshade flower, ‘Belladonna’ takes its own metaphorical parasol as an escape from “face[ing] the sun”. With its east-Asian-inspired, auto-tuned background vocals and silky piano, the song takes its name from the 1973 Japanese animation film Belladonna of Sadness. The line “bed of grass eclipses my sight” encapsulates being watched in an idyllic setting and the song refers to the “bittersweet” act of ritual deflowering in the film and its scrutiny towards the destructive “aftertaste”. ‘Belladonna’ is certainly catchy in its chanting and has quaint undertones of intricate violin slurring and a Japanese voicemail message bridge.

The cyclical ‘Endless Pain/Endless Joy’ features aggressive drums and a perpetually looping bassline. As the guitar erupts, a circus unfolds focusing wholly on the “endless” aspect. Swinging between the “sometimes” (the more in-between emotions) and the overarching constants, an occasional synthesiser note stands out as a nod to transience, but this is ultimately lost to the infinity of the pain/joy cycle. This piece, although conceptually grand, is a little lacking in substance and when it bursts, despite producing some emotional effect, it jars rather than cleanses.

‘Bitter Conversation’ is a dreamy funk piece with muted electric-beats and gentle synthesiser centred around the desire to end dialogue and wind down. The chorus engages the listener with a staccato instrumental before a turn-down key-change.

‘This Time of Year’ has bongos and bitty elevator-music-style riffs accompany a scrapped-up youthful love - old “stuff” that is “packed up”. Its country-style guitar conjures the romanticism of long, open highways, but this is set against a practical acknowledgement of the necessity of “savings” for travel.

Like ‘Flowers’, ‘Gimme Time’, begins with a wake-up “nightmare” of a companion taking off “to the city”. Ethereal backing vocals channel the protagonist's inner life, begging to “show me that love” as the lead expresses a desire to collapse and “fall apart like a young child”. The fast-paced drums echo the sense of impatience to escape and take off to the city and the track ends with a lullaby-like synth line. 

The sentiment of the line “running from you in the dark” from ‘Belladonna’ continues in the “keeping out of sight” refrain from ‘Backroads’, later in the tracklisting. Where 'Belladonna' uses experimental randomised drum patterns, ‘Backroads’ backtracks to a steadier waltz pace to “pull my car up to that ballroom”. But like backroads often are, the song feels like an unnecessary detour overall.

Antepenultimate ‘Dangerous’ is a poppy, guitar-heavy piece where the protagonist's “blood turns cold” and its xylophone and synthesiser flourishes ripple as though plunged underwater.

Thriftiness is revisited on the concluding track, ‘A Check for Daniel’, where the protagonist is “having trouble to pay my rent” as the album goes some way to explore wasted time and financial worries. Indeed, the opening track ‘Flowers’ contains a grungier section about “spending the cash” and leaving “dust on the track” that evokes a country setting of wasted youth. Although blues-influenced in its instrumentation, ‘A Check for Daniel’ is a predominantly punk in spirit, lashing out at a domestic situation that includes a “leaking ceiling” and a “kitchen filling up with smoke”.

Superbloom's bulbs and seeds are scattered across a plethora of landscapes and genres. In some soil, they flourish; on other ground, there is still plenty of room for growth. 

Superbloom is released on 9th August.

Lead image: Album Art 'Superbloom' (2019)




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