Album Review: Ratatat

The only words on Ratatat’s appropriately titled fourth studio album, LP4, come in the form of a German film sample and an interview with Linda Manz, an actress known for her role in 1978’s Days of Heaven.

This might seem a bit random, but like nearly every song on their best effort to date, the Brooklyn duo of Evan Mast (multi-instrumentalist, producer) and Mike Stroud (guitarist) emerge as geniuses — or, at the very least, something unique.

LP4 consists of the “leftovers” from 2008’s recording session for LP3, recorded in rural upstate New York at Old Soul Studios. But you wouldn’t know it by listening. The experimentation here is both obvious and imposing. Indeed, Mast and Stroud take us on a tour of the world, from the breezy, ukulele shores of Hawaii on “Mahalo” to the Eastern sounds of both “Bob Gandhi” and “Bare Feast.”

Nevertheless, these are still mostly upbeat, electronic pop songs. The Brian May-like guitar riff on “Sunblocks” lets it soar to almost stadium-anthem status. So it’s no surprise that “Party with Children,” a spiraling affair that features the best guitar moments on the album, was selected as the first single. Yet, Ratatat’s movement to keyboards and percussion is evident throughout, as is the use of strings to complement tunes such as closer “Alps,” a victory lap to top off a stellar record.

Even though Ratatat is without lyrics, the band’s sound isn’t really without a vocalist — rather, the music does the talking. Though far from mainstream, the broadening of their sound brings with it something for everyone. After producing two songs on Kid Cudi’s debut album, hip-hop fans can dig into the funk delights of “Drugs,” while Daft Punk comparisons can be fairly made on standout “Neckbrace,” a distorted, layered trip through outer space that feels new on every listen.

Mast and Stroud have matured to the point that there’s no worrying they’ll go too far for their own good. In other words, there’s no 12-minute “Siberian Breaks” garbage that went awry on MGMT’s Congratulations. Instead, the uneasy piano and strings in the two-minute pleaser “We Can’t Be Stopped” should bring their fans into Ratatat’s fold. “Grape Juice City,” a seemingly random assortment of sounds — from birds to some accordion for good measure — will keep them in the fold.

Alright, how about Passion Pit’s recently expanded fan base? They’re invited, too. It just wouldn’t be Ratatat without the ‘80s arcade samples, and “Mandy” is straight out of Mega Man. Additionally, while opener “Bilar” leads into the aforementioned “Drugs” with a sample from the 1977 German film Stroszek, the latter explodes with a squealing guitar and swirling synths.

Everything about LP4 is strange, but it’s also one amusing adventure, never jumping outside itself. Those questioning whether electronic-rock instrumentals can maintain their attention will more than likely be hooked after 42 minutes of bliss. Further listens will only reveal more delicacies hidden deep within Mast’s production.

If LCD Soundsystem started the dance party in 2010, then Ratatat has surely kept it going.


Reach reporter Bryden McGrath at weekender@dailyuw.com

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