Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Ratatat buffs out its electro-rock to a nice sheen

Illustration for article titled Ratatat buffs out its electro-rock to a nice sheen

Ratatat has always seethed and pulsed and coolly strutted along while the angular, spastic dance-punk of their mid-aughts contemporaries desperately tried to out-sass and out-disco-beat itself. The duo’s instrumental soundtrack seemed much more appropriate for American Apparel browsing than for ravaging every last scrap of neon from the racks—and that made Ratatat even more attractive during its infancy. On the band’s 2004 self-titled debut and 2006’s Classics, Evan Mast and Mike Stroud cleared out space for the grooves—or roaring-tiger clips—to organically bubble up, instead of feverishly trying to force them from thin air.

And though the new Magnifique—the band’s first album in five years—doesn’t reinvent the Ratatat wheel, it revisits the status-quo thrill of those first two albums, while sprinkling in the hammock-swaying, breezy tropical vibe of both LP3 and LP4. Super-processed glam-guitar lines triumphantly sweep in and out on “Cream On Chrome,” but only after the funky, understated rhythm—think a vocal-less “Stayin’ Alive,” with way less feathered hair and more black Ray-Bans—paves a gold-lamé path right to the get-down.

During their 14 years together, Mast and Stroud have become more adept at layering celestial synth choruses with flaming solos to create bizarro sonic environments, which has made them attractive collaborators to the likes of Kid Cudi. The first quarter of the album’s six-plus-minute “Nightclub Amnesia,” for example, sounds like it might as well be pouring out of the floor monitors of a humid, back-alley discotheque. As its thick, stomping beats rain down and the ragged guitar licks ricochet and pinball within the track’s margins, it’s hard not to associate the rhythm with the flicker of a strobe light—as listeners catch glimpses of the dude across the dance floor doing bumps off his car keys.

Tracks like the short “Cold Fingers”—featuring slap-bass-like lines lifted right from Bootsy’s book of funk—and “Abrasive,” which includes chiptune tweaks that roll into a kind of electro brass-band march by the end, are full-scale Ratatat burners designed to get elbows off of the bar and feet on the floor. But those are better tempered by a wall of effects (and bird chirps) in a swinging, laid-back song like “Supreme,” or in “Drift,” which is like a tumbleweed lazing its way through a desolate country carnival during its wee hours. And though the Ratatat mood still has a time-and-place feel to it—because it was so fresh and stylish when it was forged—that doesn’t negate that the duo can still sound damn slick without sounding like Mast and Stroud are trying too hard.