Rah Rah seeks a sound

When I saw Rah Rah a couple of weeks ago, I noted that the band’s baroque rock intensity was distinctly similar to Arcade Fire. On the group’s album, 2008′s Going Steady, that resemblance is even more apparent. Aside from the deep, mumbling vocals of singer Marshall Burns, much of the album sounds like a collection of lo-fi Funeral outtakes; during “Betrayal pt. 1,” with its sawing violin and yelping backup vocals, you half expect the band to break into “Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)” at any moment.

The Arcade Fire sound-alikes are fun, but Rah Rah is at its best when carving out a sound of its own. The clear standout is “Duet for Emmylou and the Grievous Angel,” a gritty waltz-time strummer with a stunning singalong chorus of “It is fashionable / To be single / In big cities but not in small towns.” The folksy “My Guarantee” is a charming love song with sunny mandolins and poignant harmonies from the group’s female members. The girl-sung backup vocals are equally effective on “Winter Sun,” which features call-and-response harmonies over its sparse electro groove.

The album is carried by Burns’s lyrics, which are often witty and consistently memorable. He specializes in romantic cynicism, especially on the biting “Betrayal pt. 2″: “And I swear that I once loved a girl / More than any hockey team in the world / But you left me for that asshole / I forget his name.”

Burns has already found his lyrical voice, so hopefully Rah Rah will develop a a unique sound to match. It’s encouraging that the group is at its best when it sounds most like itself, rather than when imitating others. The band has already recorded a follow-up; based on the potential displayed on Going Steady, it’s going to be an album look out for in the near future.
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