For an album that is often so quickly dismissed as a predictable let down to it’s predecessor, Ra Ra Riot’s The Orchard is excellent. It is, to me, the ideal second album: a rather challenging concept for bands with an excellent debut. As a result of pressure to produce another superb album, we often see a polished sophomore LP that loses much of the raw charm of the debut. Good news.
Ra Ra Riot haven’t lost anything.
On a (rather long) side note, Ra Ra Riot’s connections to Vampire Weekend (Riot lead singer Wes Miles and Weekend keyboard wizard Rostam BATMANglij teamed up for an '09 techno release under the name Discovery, plus the Batman did some producing on Orchard) are on display everywhere here, especially in Boy and Massachusetts, among others.
On The Orchard, things are smoother than on The Rhumb Line. Instead of always playing alongside guitars, drums, and vocals, the strings seamlessly flow out of lead lines and into harmonies and back again. The orchestration might not always be as tight, but it sure is fantastic when it is. Amazing standout tracks The Orchard, Boy, Too Dramatic, Foolish, Shadowcasting, and Kansai make up for the surprisingly poor You and I Know, which feels bizarrely out of place.
To summarize, what we have here is an excellent band following an excellent debut with a superb second album that shows exploration, maturity, and improvement. An all-around great album, I highly recommend The Orchard.