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Stage Buzz: Ra Ra Riot and Rob Mazurek

These kids from Syracuse, N.Y. delve into an electronic world after making their mark with their string-laden debut, The Rhumb Line, back in 2008. Words like sophisticated, brainy, and clever have described Ra Ra Riot’s previous two LPs. But the addition of lots of synth, a fun approach to arrangements (thanks in part to the warmer climate while recording in Missouri, says the band), and perhaps cellist Alexandra Lawn’s departure last year pushed them into new realms, which has proven to be musical kismet on Beta Love. Retro synth influences and comparisons abound here. ELO is all over the record. Thomas Dolby (the king of ’80s synth experimentation) comes to mind on “Binary Mind” and “For Once.” “Is It Too Much” recalls the tightly compressed emotion of Everything But The Girl. Better Than Ezra also comes to mind with the strangely funky “What I Do For U.” The album closer, “I Shut Off,” could fit into a set by contemporaries Fitz And The Tantrums. Ra Ra Riot creates and compiles a wide map of arrangements and influences on Beta Love, but the trip is taken in a vehicle that keeps the listener engaged and surprised at every turn. (Friday@Metro.)

– Penelope Biver

“The Planets” by Gustav Holst has played an important role in modern music, influencing everything from the score for Star Wars to Black Sabbath’s eponymous early single. Although Rob Mazurek‘s Stellar Pulsations (Delmark) follows a scheme similar to that forceful suite –naming each of seven songs in part after a planet – it fails to capture the grandeur of Holst’s expressive work. In fact, it’s difficult to determine how most of these tracks even tie in to their extraterrestrial nomenclature. While “Spiritual Mars” opens quietly, then becomes a frenetic fracas befitting a world named for the Roman god of war, other tunes, including “Primative Jupiter” and “Spanish Venus,” are simply improvisational excursions. Though skillfully performed, in the end, this ostensibly celestial collection is little more than an earthbound trifle. (Saturday@Old Town School of Folk Music.)

– Jeff Berkwits

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