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Ratatat – LP4

on June 04, 2010, 8:01am

One of the hardest things to do as an artist is to create a musical species out of your music, that is to say, music that’s a brand of its own; consequently, when you succeed in doing so, as the audio-abnormality Ratatat has done, it is also one of the most rewarding things. The duo, comprised of guitarist Mike Stroud and producer/synth-master/bassist Evan Mast, exists as an industry anomaly, an offbeat coupling that manufactures intuitive guitar riffs paired with precise bass hits and subtle, delectable drumming (and believe me, it’s weird to describe them as “offbeat,” as few and far between are the times that they are actually offbeat).

Stroud and Mast first started creating their oft-described Baroque-esque dance tunes by building Ratatat, their self-titled debut, on a MacBook in Stroud’s Brooklyn apartment in 2004. At that time, they probably didn’t see their then-newest musical creation taking them on the journey it has: two world tours (including opening slots for Daft Punk, Björk and Interpol), two remix LPs, two recent forays into hip hop with Kid Cudi, and even an inaugural one-off gig at the world famous Guggenheim Museum in Manhattan.

And it would appear that in six years, it didn’t take long for either half to prosper in their success. Between the tour supporting their previous electro-dance endeavor, LP3, and going in to the studio to mix/master LP4, Stroud spent time with his girlfriend on a yacht along the coast of Sicily, while his co-conspirator, Mast, vacationed in Paris. That’s what can happen when you fill a void in an industry that begs to be filled. Youngsters all across the nation, or dare I say the world, were waiting for this vibrant, authentic, hallucinogenic material to align themselves with. Hipsters nationwide treat Ratatat like your dad treated Pink Floyd: progressive, intrinsically thought-provoking music that serves more as a secretive movement to become a part of, more than a mere band to be enjoyed.

LP4, conceived, written, and recorded at Old Soul Studios in Catskill, New York, is in some ways an extension of its predecessor; this should not come as a surprise. LP3 was recorded in the same studio and in the same sessions. They recorded thirty songs, and decided to cut the cluster in half. However, Stroud believes there’s a difference in the two, telling Paste Magazine last summer,

There’s definitely a progression…We felt like the rest of them [for LP4] were better than LP3. So like, LP3 would be like a teaser to LP4, we thought at the time.

LP4, is no doubt, the duo’s most expansive, divergent piece of artwork. Never before have we heard the illustrious sounds of an orchestra incorporated with the symphonic sound of Ratatat. They even sampled Terrence Malick’s 1978 film Days of Heaven. Why? Who knows– who cares? With Ratatat, a reason is not often required. Many of the songs seem intrinsic and natural, however abrasive. “Drugs”, a song that starts off with a lackluster piano riff, horns, and the aforementioned orchestra, ebbs and seemingly goes nowhere until it explodes into a head-spinning beat, complete with that good ol’ screaming guitar sound and accompanied by an innate synth-popping jam, making the song a track that will surely cause more than one consumer to question use of the song’s namesake. The album’s single, dubbed “Party With Children”, could be considered a reflection of the pairs’ time spent in non-American worlds, with a harpsichord-based harmony that sound like something straight out of a [talented] busking accordion player in Europe, momentously flowing into more of Mike Stroud’s layered genius. It doesn’t stop there either; a catchy, interesting use of a mandolin is employed on “Bare Feast” and “Alps”, the album’s closer, soaring into a pleasant, thumping ballad that wraps up LP4 in pristine fashion.

Alas, LP4 has its downfalls. “We Can’t Be Stopped”, for example, is a sad, orchestral overture with a repetitive piano that never expands into the colossal mind-fuck I know it could become, but I guess that’s a little much to ask for in a mere two minutes and ten seconds. This short-handed feeling could also be felt on “Mandy”, a funky, tribal charge, indeed, but from start to finish, I don’t hear the tune going anywhere. The truly great songs on LP4 are what we have come to expect from Ratatat: guitar-laced, synth-powered, electro-dance jams. But there lacks a certain crunch to their latest experiments that was very omnipresent on their self-titled debut, as well as 2006’s Classics. There are no “Loud Pipes” on LP4, no clear-cut masterpieces.

The aficionados of this band, the ardent devotees, will argue against this blasphemous claim; those same people would also argue that everything the dual composers come up with is a work of gold. That’s why LP4 gets this rating—there’s good stuff here, and I can’t wait for the tour in support of it, but when people think of Ratatat, they will still think of Classics, not of LP4. Unfortunately, this is an album review, and not a concert review, or otherwise the outcome, I can only assume, would have been much different.