Rowan Daly

Ra Ra Riot's "Superbloom" Is a Gorgeous Mess

The indie-rock mainstay's fifth album builds up excellent potential but ultimately ends up feeling too self-satisfied and incomplete.

Superbloom is a ramshackle road trip, an ardent investigation of relationships ripped apart by distance on the road to falling out of love.

Ra Ra Riot's fifth studio album—mystifyingly—has all the pieces of a satisfying record. It's the Syracuse indie act's second collaboration with Rostam Batmanglij, indie wizard and former V8 engine behind the Vampire Weekend. His fingerprints are all over Superbloom's crackling warmth, ambitious in its reach and tender in its immediacy. It's also a welcome return to the more baroque, rustic-sounding alt-pop the band has in their bones. Not to claim Superbloom is a betrayal of Ra Ra Riot's synth-forward pivot since 2013's Beta Love; it's a sonic fusion of their present and past, with folksy vigor meshed with an orchestral backdrop. You can hear this fusion on tracks like "Gimme Time" and "Bitter Conversation"—like 1971-era The Who got lost and found themselves in a futuristic meadow.

With all these ingredients, you'd imagine Superbloom would have more staying power, or at least be easier to grasp. But the album seems aimless in its 47 minutes, not claiming a place in 2019's indie-rock pantheon. Superbloom builds up potential and then just ends, resting on its supposed laurels.

To be fair, the album's opening run, with "Flowers," "Bad to Worse," and "Belladonna," is a gorgeous triptych and maybe one of the best openings of any album released this year. The sawing hymn opening "Flowers" is haunting in the best way, a romanticized story of a doomed couple attempting to outrun their own unhappiness amidst Americana imagery of highways and the promise lands of Southern California: "My only medicine is letting go again," Wes Miles quavers. A sense of tragedy settles over the rest of the album. "Bad To Worse" chronicles a couple pulled apart and drawn back together by the alluring friction of their toxic love. Then "Belladonna," the album's last single and most accessible song, tears back the record's final curtain, as the anthem's angelic backing raises Superbloom's stakes.

But Superbloom wastes these songs' potential by not pushing further. The songs exploring the theme of crumbling love, like "Endless Pain/Endless Joy" or "Dangerous," feel superficial in their explorations, verging on parody. Even the album's riskier offerings fall flat: "War & Famine," a song about alienation in the modern world, leaves a dour and self-important taste in your mouth, while the penultimate song, "An Accident," shares desolate suicidal ideation teased out by Miles' earnest vocals, but it feels too jarring and melodramatic to connect to the rest of the album.

While Superbloom starts out strong, with an engaging focus on heartbreak and all its changing forms, the final product is far too inconsistent as a whole. The album loses interest in plumbing its own depths in favor of superficial laments. Ra Ra Riot is toying with something powerful here, but there's no follow through, culminating in a shimmering, overwrought mess.

But for a devout Ra Ra Riot fan, the closing exuberance of "A Check For Daniel" is like a pleasantly unearned victory lap. Maybe it will distract listeners from the (admittedly gorgeous) meandering of Superbloom as a whole.

Superbloom

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