Ratatat’s concept of rippling guitars got tangled up in some of the best hits from the excellent “Man on the Moon: End of Day” (Universal, 2009) by Kid Cudi, which the group collaborated on. Some months later, it became clear that without the sublimation of the tackiest 80s guitars as a tool for the unbiased party that Ratatat had always set for itself, the mind-blowing homonymous debut album Fang Island wouldn’t exist. The New Yorkers were on the right track. And so, after reflecting themselves against other sonic surfaces, they’ve put out the fourth album, “LP4”, carrying on from the previous “LP3” (XL, 2008). It seems like an obvious title, and it is, but that too says something. It’s not that Mike Stroud and Evan Mast are slackers when it comes to thinking up a title, but this “LP4” was recorded in the same place (the Old Soul Studios in Catskill) and at the same time as the aforementioned “LP3”. In fact, their makers are letting us know that these are two works that should be considered as a whole. So the title’s lack of originality is justified, though the same can’t be said for any other form slackness.
And if there is something that Ratatat’s new album suffers from, it’s precisely this slacking, and lack of risk. The laurels they’re resting on will soon wear out like the rush we got, like a pill placed under the tongue, from the first two records they gave us. This doesn’t make it impossible for “LP4” to be a great album (which it is); in fact, this time Stroud and Mast have managed to shift the focus of their particular musical camera enough to do away with the blurry outlines of previous LPs and render an image that so sharp that you can see the pores in the epidermis. They say that both records have to be considered as one whole. I say that the last album set up the camera, and this one frames the picture.
In spite of this scolding, it should be clear that “LP4” is not only the band’s best-sounding album, it’s also the most balanced. What distinguished them in their first two records was their concept of songwriting as an ultra-sonic running count, in which they played with a fun, overwhelming version of a cut’n’paste conceived as more of a blender than a mathematic theory. In “LP4,” the latest tropical fruits go directly into the blender, to be mixed with the ripest fruits that Ratatat had already picked for their three previous albums. For the occasion, they have once again recovered the 80s heavy metal electric guitars that (to the dismay of many) were relatively absent from “LP3” . They also incorporate a multitude of novel, seductive textures that drop into the listener’s ear like a doe of a trippy psychotropic drug. In the end, it’s impossible to pick out one element that stands out above the others: absolutely all of the songs from “LP4” boast of overwhelming freaky details with a naturalness that bans the word “exhibitionism” from the mind. That’s the big thing about Ratatat: they do what they do without anything squeaking. Their music, as complex as it might be, appears before the listener with a fluidity that is so natural it’s almost nudist.
It’s impossible to over-emphasize one thing: the seismic opening of “ Billar” dazzles as much with its low percussion and trembling synthesiser as “ Alps” does at its optimistic, trippy close, and what there is in the middle is a non-stop festival. “ Neckbrace” incorporates the voice as a sound texture to create a disturbing dance section; the wood percussion of the stunning “ Bob Ghandi” harks back to tribal dance and is amplified through electric guitars that spiral upwards; the percussive and nearly ancestral rhythm of “ Party With Children” links some crazy theremins and keyboards lines that dirty the word “classic”; “ Bare Fist” turns your head towards Asia with a celebratory look that lifts all the rhythmic sections. The whole thing is a sort of sublimation of the Ratatat sound into which certain pulses of the latest wave have been incorporated (tropicalism and afrobeat, basically). It’s an arrival at the peak based on hard work that, nevertheless, pains one with its absolute lack of the surprise factor. That’s what happens when you pass a big official test after years of trial and error: instead of being congratulated, people tell you “it’s about time.” For all of these reasons, it is inevitable to think that an “LP5” would be unnecessary: after this can only come a change of direction, or death.
Raül De Tena