MUSIC REVIEWS: Ra Ra Riot’s ‘Beta Love’

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Beta Love

Ra Ra Riot

Barsuk

★★★

If we never bit off more than we could chew, we’d still be eating baby food.

With that in mind, Ra Ra Riot sink its teeth into a new sound with “Beta Love,” an ambitious album that trades the band’s orchestral pop for something more danceable and electronic.

Cellist Alexandra Lawn left the lineup a year ago, cutting down the group’s string section to a single person. That might seem like a minor change, but it’s had a significant affect on the band. The symphonic interludes are out; synthesizers, computerized sound effects and drum machines are in.

It’s a shocking makeover. “What I Do For U” is a minimalist R&B song, the imagined result of Usher and Prince sharing the stage in some futuristic disco, while “Dance With Me” puts an indie spin on Maroon 5’s soulful funk. “Beta Love” peaks with “Binary Mind,” where Wes Miles — the band’s angelic vocalist, his vibrato and pure timbre serving as the only human elements on an otherwise robotic album — croons over stuttering drum breaks and processed guitars.

“Beta Love” is a pop record, in other words, with candied hooks and nightclub-worthy percussion. There’s an intellectual bent to the lyrics, though, and Ra Ra Riot — which reportedly wrote these songs after discovering an affinity for William Gibson and Ray Kurzweil — manages to avoid the mainstream by sounding brainier than its peers.

This is the sound of a band tearing down its own foundation and building something with newer, shinier materials. It’s evolution at warp speed. “Beta Love” sounds like nothing else in the Ra Ra Riot catalog, but for those willing to forgive the band’s abrupt transformation, this is one interesting reboot.

The Eagles break silence in new documentary

The Eagles have always been a confidential group, shunning interviews and keeping their secrets to themselves.

“Heaven and Hell,” a tell-all memoir written by former band member Don Felder, used to be the only source of Eagles-related dirt. That will change with the upcoming release of “The History of the Eagles,” a two-part rockumentary that premiered last weekend at the Sundance Film Festival. Showtime will air the first half Feb. 16.

“Part 1,” which traces the Eagles’ early days in Southern California to their initial breakup in 1980, contains rare backstage footage shot on Super 8 film. Outtakes and live performances from an unreleased 1977 documentary, some of which was shot by Haskell Wexler (fresh off his Oscar-winning work on the 1976 Woody Guthrie biopic “Bound for Glory”), are among the highlights. Interviews with musicians such as Linda Ronstadt, who helped introduce the group’s original members by employing all four as backing musicians, add an outsider’s perspective to this fly-on-the-wall film.

“Most of the things written about this band are focused on conflict,” Mr. Henley said during a Sundance news conference, explaining that “The History of the Eagles” is one of collaboration, not disagreement.

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