A Brooklyn band making experimental electronic music. Revolutionary, right? Ratatat’s 2004 debut album was written in bass player Evan Mast’s Crown Heights apartment and recorded on guitarist Mike Stroud’s Apple laptop. Of course it was.
But what Ratatat brought to the jaded New York indie techno circuit was a rhetorical question: “How can you make an album that doesn’t have any lyrics memorable?” They answered it with an outpouring of electrified post-rock, creating a sound reminiscent of The Album Leaf with more psychedelic guitars and a dash of dance-floor thrills. Tracks as diverse as the soothing lullaby of “Cherry” and the James Bond theme-esque “Lex” exposed a powerful range and have stirred years of buzz for the long-haired, digitally inclined duo.
Since 2008’s LP3, their, well, 3rd LP, Stroud and Mast have collaborated with Kid Cudi—who tracked them down on MySpace—and traipsed through the late night talk-show circuit. Now they drop LP4 (get it? yeah) with a sound that’s easier to categorize in this new decade; think chillwave shot through with some rock-and-roll adrenaline. As if an appeasement to those still skeptical of electronica’s beeps and bloops, their songwriting inches even closer toward a palette of real instruments this time around, weaving strings and synths and interspersing lean riffs into German and English spoken interludes.
But from the smooth "Bob Ghandi" to the bass-heavy throbs of “Bilar,” there’s still plenty of unadulterated dance music for those who like to bust a move on the floor at Terminal 5. "Neckbrace" and "Party With Children" (the latter of which hopefully isn't meant to serve as a soundtrack) have a stampeding house music pulse that will strut along familiarly to fans of the group’s mammoth first single “Seventeen Years.”
And yet Stroud and Mast also seem down for new tricks, as on the Japanese-strings-and-percussion twiddling “Bare Feast” and on “Mandy,” which grooves around a jazz bass line like DJ Tiesto hijacking Lite FM. On “Grape Juice City,” the pair wields tempo changes as another sonic weapon, swirling a slice of funk into overdriven video game music and ending with bird chirps. It’s the opposite story on “We Can’t Be Stopped,” a track that opens with piano and segues into lilting strings; while you’re waiting for it to erupt into a fierce dance-floor stomper worthy of its name, it ends as gently as it began. The unexpected symmetry is just the kind of stutter and start that makes experimental dance music worthy of its name.
Despite some new adventures in instrumentation on this album, Ratatat hasn’t taken a dramatic new direction with their sound. But who cares? LP4 proves fourfold that a good beat was, and still is, worth a thousand words.
Jessica Misener finds “Ratatat” extremely fun to type. She can be found online at http://www.jessicamisener.com.