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.

Rowan Daly

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.


TV Features

Every Complaint About Javicia Leslie as the First Black Batwoman Is Ridiculous

If you're mad because "Batwoman was never black," there's something you need to know...


TV's newest incarnation of Batwoman, Ryan Wilder, is Black.

The CW's Batwoman has always had a progressive streak. In the first season, Orange Is the New Black alum Ruby Rose plays Kate Kane, Bruce Wayne's cousin who dons the Batwoman cowl to protect Gotham City. Just like every other superhero show, Kate's romantic life factors into the plot. Unlike the rest, however, Kate is an out lesbian, making her the first leading lesbian superhero in television history.

But after the first season, Ruby Rose announced that she was leaving Batwoman for unspecified reasons, allegedly related to burnout from the ridiculously long work hours required from a superhero series lead. This meant that in order for Batwoman to continue, the CW would need a new star.

Enter Javicia Leslie, former co-star of CBS comedy-drama God Unfriended Me. Prior to Leslie's casting, fans of the show wondered how Batwoman might handle the transition of actresses. Would Kate Kane just look completely different in season 2 with no canonical explanation?

Nope. As it turns out, Javicia Leslie's Batwoman will be an entirely new character: Ryan Wilder.

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EXNATIONS Keeps Us Dancing with Latest EP "Pink Haze"

Indie alt-pop trio dive further into the dark and melancholic side of synth pop in latest EP.

Brooklyn indie alt-pop band EXNATIONS, comprised of Sal Mastrocola, Taylor Hughes, and John O'Neill, continue to go against the grain of the genre's typical upbeat style in their latest EP Pink Haze.

The group combines two obviously opposite emotions in their music and mesh them together to create a relatable and energetic sound. Although self-describedd as a "sad pop" band, their tonal color palette remains bright and iridescent, correlating with the splashes of pink and purple hues that are present throughout their graphics, representing the dance-able side to their music, drenching it with juxtaposition.

Dream-like, hazy & synthy, Pink Haze is a solid sophomore release, laced with sparkling anticipation and heart-wrenching lyrics. The elements of pop music are clear, but what's even more fascinating about EXNATIONS is the anthemic sense of empowerment the trio produces.

Pink Haze deals with the warm, reminiscent embrace of nostalgia. Beautiful and all-enveloping, it's easy to get lost in the EP's six powerful yet vulnerable tracks. A prime example of this is in the EP's lead single, "Tether." The track's transcendental synths maintain a consistent tempo throughout the song, lending their support to the soulful lyrics. The song then breaks into a guitar-laden climax, as our senses are ignited with sentiments ranging from wistful to euphoric.

Over the course of the record, the band arrives at the conclusion that it's best to find a way through the haze of nostalgia. When we can look at the past honestly and critically, we've got our best shot at true growth and progression. "Driving aimless down a dark highway on a breezy summer night / The long walk back from your first love's apartment after a crushing fight," they sing.

The band says, "Pink Haze is inspired by the moments where we find ourselves looking backwards through the blushing rose-colored fog of nostalgia to figure out how to move forward."

Hazy and dreamy, yet bursting with passion and high energy, EXNATIONS says, "It's sad, but we're still dancing."

Check out EXNATIONS' tour dates below and listen to their EP Pink Haze today!