Ra Ra Riot: Poignant And Propulsive

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Monday's Pick

  • Song: "Dying Is Fine"
  • Artist: Ra Ra Riot
  • CD: The Rhumb Line
  • Genre: Pop-Rock
Ra Ra Riot 300

Ra Ra Riot's "Dying Is Fine" seems rooted in a firsthand understanding that dying isn't fine, no matter what anyone says. Sarah Cass hide caption

itoggle caption Sarah Cass

For Ra Ra Riot, there's no escaping the accidental death of 23-year-old drummer John Pike last year: Tragedy and personal loss aside, he wrote or co-wrote many of the New York band's lyrics, and represented an integral portion of its identity. Still, Ra Ra Riot has carried on without him, while polishing its cello- and violin-infused rock to a shine on its excellent full-length debut, The Rhumb Line.

Naturally, Pike's presence is hardest to escape in the poignant and propulsive "Dying Is Fine," which swipes a terrific line from an E.E. Cummings poem ("I wouldn't like death if death were good") and repurposes it in a catchy chorus. The song, written by Pike and singer Wes Miles, has appeared on early Ra Ra Riot singles. But "Dying Is Fine" sounds especially polished and lively in this incarnation, thanks in part to its sleek production and the surprisingly subtle strings, which add melancholy shading and a jolt of rhythm.

Ra Ra Riot emerged from the same scene that produced Vampire Weekend, and was originally on pace to release its debut around the same time. But, with all due respect to its more widely celebrated peers, Ra Ra Riot hits a more enduring vein of sweetness and sadness on The Rhumb Line. In "Dying Is Fine," especially, it seems rooted in a firsthand understanding that dying isn't fine, no matter what anyone says.

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This story originally ran on Nov. 3, 2008.

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