It was in December 2010 when I first heard the young Canadian indie rock ensemble, Rah Rah. They were playing Milwaukee’s The Rave, opening for Tim Kasher, who in turn was opening for Minus the Bear. My brother Michael and I are fans of Kasher, as well as his more well-known projects, Cursive and The Good Life, so we attended the show. We ended up getting there early enough to catch all of Rah Rah’s opening set, and to say the least, we were glad we did.
From just the half-hour or so they played, it was evident Rah Rah was a band bursting with talent. Their sound was indie rock with some heavy folk tendencies, but also incorporated pop melodies, alt-country rhythm and straight-up rock n’ roll. Band members jumped around on stage, switching up instruments between each song. The crowd could feel their excitement, which really is the number one thing that any opening band can bring to a city that is largely unfamiliar with their music.
They played two songs in particular that night that stuck with me, “Duet for Emmylou And The Grievous Angel” and “Beaches,” respectively off of their first album, Going Steady, and second album, Breaking Hearts. And I know I wasn’t the only one going home humming newly acquired Rah Rah tunes. Now with their recently released third album, The Poet’s Dead, Rah Rah only furthers their reach. It’s an ambitious, well-crafted and polished effort, and it reinforces that Rah Rah is far more than just another young band with potential.
The most exciting aspect to The Poet’s Dead is the number of musical styles intermingled throughout the album. No two songs sound the same, yet they all are distinctly Rah Rah. And that isn’t easy to pull off. It works for Rah Rah in large part to the unique and powerful voices of lead singers, Erin Passmore and Marshall Burns. Vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Kristina Hedlund also prominently sings on the new record, and all three voices make for a wonderfully diverse sounding record.
Passmore shines on just about every note she sings on the album. “She was yours as soon as you left me/ I doused my life in water and whiskey” she sings on “Prairie Girl,” a rousing, infectious indie rock hit if I’ve ever heard one. “I’m A Killer” is a deeper cut, more flushed out but it’s kept lively with a groovy back beat and lifting harmonies. Passmore beautifully flashes her range on the track’s dark and menacing chorus, “You can always make it up to me/ I’m a killer.”
Rah Rah’s folk angle can definitely be felt on the tracks that Burns fronts. His voice brings a unique twang to the songs, and it’s at its best when he is impassioned and worked up, such as on “The Poet’s Dead,” and lead track “Art and a Wife.” On the latter, Burns confronts growing older, and the changing interests and life goals that come with it: “I used to want to make out, make out with every girl/ But now I just want a life/ Full of art and a wife.”
Rah Rah is just as good on the grand “Dead Men.” The track is slower, but no less intense, and Burns commands the song with boozing line after boozing line. On the songs Hedlund leads, she adds yet another dynamic to Rah Rah’s sound. “20s” builds on lively drums, toys with Strokes-like guitar work and cascades delightfully into a 60s psychedelic chorus. The result is an upbeat, ecstatic tune. “Run,” on the other hand, combines 80s pop atmosphere with a punk rock composition. Hedlund’s soft yet striving vocals perfectly accommodate the tune, and it makes for another winning moment on the new album.
The Poet’s Dead triumphantly delivers on all the promise of the band’s two previous albums. Rah Rah is for real. They’re not messing around. They’ve been the first opener of three band shows enough to know it’s not for them, not forever. An eloquent, exciting breakout album is the most profound way to move up from that position circuit; Rah Rah now has theirs, The Poet’s Dead.