The fatalism that runs through Ra Ra Riot's debut full-length, The Rhumb Line, is the byproduct of genuine tragedy — original drummer and lyricist John Pike died under mysterious circumstances before the recording of the album. But where lesser indie bands would crumble under such weight, the sextet found a winning combination in crushing grief, transcendent joy and, of course, killer songs. Ra Ra Riot's appeal lies in the collision of disparate forces: violins and cellos that behave like guitars, drum patterns that are both kinetic and rooted to the lyrics and backing vocals that stand like angels or devils on singer Wes Miles' shoulders. Miles has the strength and clarity to rise above the wonderful clatter of his bandmates, but it's his voice's emotional heft — which is able to take to the sky or burrow under your skin — that made Rhumb Line one of 2008's best albums.
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