Polyvinyl 4-Track Singles Series, Vol. 3: Ra Ra Riot

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Super limited edition colored vinyl from the Polyvinyl 4 track series with "Bad Times" and "You Don't Know A Thing". These will not be repressed so once they're gone, they're gone. Ra Ra Riot was the first band to record for Volume 3 of the series which was released in January. Polyvinyl sent a Tascam 4-track cassette recorder to the band, they recorded two songs to tape, then mailed the recorder to the next artist to do the same.

Mat Santos of Ra Ra Riot on the recordings:

"So much of my favorite recorded music has what could be described as an “unfinished” or “demo-y” quality to it, and I think that’s because it leaves the listener a bit more room to find their way in. It can be a little more honest and human, both immediate and ambiguous, whereas highly-produced music - which of course has its own unique merits - can feel a bit more impenetrable, or at least a bit more dictatorial, if that makes sense. So one of the many reasons we were excited to be a part of Polyvinyl’s 4-track Singles Series was the opportunity to re-approach some of our material in a looser, more organic context, as part of a larger dialogue with both the other bands in the series and the listeners who subscribe to it.

Recording with a simple 4-track was, aside from being a good exercise in working within a strict set of limitations, just plain fun, and reminded us of what it was like when we first started making music, before feeling the need to take things more “seriously”, or whatever. These days especially, it’s easy to get lost “in the box”. For these recordings, Milo and I simply spent an afternoon with Wes at his apartment, and we banged everything out with a minimum of takes, hardly any overdubs, and (obviously) no editing. It was a lot of fun.

BAD TIMES
Some songs seem to want to be “bigger”, some “smaller”, and some are a bit more malleable. On our most recent album, Need Your Light, we tried to make Bad Times bigger by exaggerating its more epic qualities - namely, with some huge string arrangements, Edge-esque guitars, and a massive half-time feel in the choruses. So it seemed to us a good candidate for the 4-track treatment, where we could strip it all away and let the song’s bones take center stage.

The song itself is a bit of a Frankenstein - the verses and bridge developed from parts of a leftover, unused demo from our Beta Love sessions, and the chorus was a newer idea of Milo’s that Wes wrote the melody for. The song went through a ton of iterations before we landed on what ended up on the record. In this Polyvinyl version, Wes just sat down at his upright piano and belted it out in (I think?) one take. Those long, ringing chords on the piano manage to somehow seem, in their own way, even more epic than the built-up album arrangement, and their more overt melancholy provides a perfect backdrop for Wes’s sweet and powerful vocals.

YOU DON’T KNOW A THING
This song seemed like a perfect counterbalance to the organic grandness of Bad Times, both in terms of mood and sonics, and as a leftover from the Need Your Light sessions that never made it off the drawing board, this seemed like the perfect context in which to revisit it. It started as a demo I’d brought to the band, and nothing much here was changed from its original incarnation - Wes finished writing the second verse lyrics, and together with Milo we made a few small tweaks to the arrangement. Milo took the backing tracks and made them come alive with some great sonic engineering, creating that cool, sparkling, wooly patch for the pads, as well as building up the drums from just a sparse backbeat. We then ran all the MIDI through Wes’s old, rattly Fender Reverb, before adding his lead vocals along with my backups and guitar tracks. It’s a hyper-simple, sing-song-y song that’s supposed to feel kind of cyclical and repetitive, and I wanted its innocent superficiality to belie some romantic strife and ambiguity - underneath the sweetness and seeming directness, the lyrics are peppered with lots of nonsensical double-negatives.

We’re really excited to be kicking off Volume 3 of Polyvinyl’s 4-Track Singles Series. We had a lot of fun making these two recordings, and I hope that you’ll find them as endearing and accessible as I do."

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