Release Date: Jul 17, 2015
Record label: XL
Genre(s): Electronic, Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Indie Rock, Club/Dance, Indie Electronic
US duo Ratatat really are great. They make electronic power-pop (or is it funk rock?) that has a hefty sonic sheen without being an EDM-shaped serotonin bomb. They’ve been pumping out tunes since 2004, well before EDM became the industry’s snack-of-choice and their native Brooklyn became (quite) so trendy. But with 11 years of increasingly refined space-rock, is complacency creeping in? Well, no… or predominantly no… or more accurately who cares when it’s this good? Magnifique is excellent and comes after a five-year rest since last set LP4.
The duo of Mike Stroud and Evan Mast have stayed remarkably true to the sound they developed on Ratatat's first album, 2004's self-titled affair. Though there have been slight stylistic diversions on the albums that followed, especially on 2008's LP3, their core of neatly wound, double-tracked guitar melodies, thrumming basslines, and tight beats has remained intact. Though it was released five years after its predecessor LP4, a gap that might lead one to think that big changes were brewing, 2015's Magnifique delivers everything fans might expect from a Ratatat album.
Head here to submit your own review of this album. Ratatat have been adored by slavish cults in their half-decade away from the spotlight, many lumbering into the axe-strewn melee long after the Brooklyn twosome last released anything. It's been five years since 2010's LP4, but Ratatat have taken that time to sober, clean, and grow up. The result of their extended break is Magnifique.
Born from studio sessions in which they had access to "a million different instruments" for the first time, Ratatat's LP3 and LP4 took their six-string electro-hop sounds to ambitious new places, with everything from a live string quartet to talkboxes. Such ambition may have taken it out of Mike Stroud and Evan Mast, who took the better part of four years to write and record Magnifique. The time away has certainly served the duo well, though, as they hit all the right notes with a less-is-more approach to composition on their fifth studio record.Dialling back the sonic detail has left Stroud's guitar work at the forefront of the record, where he crafts a wealth of memorable melodies.
In Ratatat’s five-year absence since LP4, their fans have grown ravenous and, more importantly, visible. Mike Stroud and Evan Mast’s previous albums may have circulated in the band’s particular niche, but the instrumental electro duo are now shedding their “underrated” tag and slipping into popularity. Live, they’re just as tied to their visuals as they are their music, splashing avian psychedelics and 3D light beams like a twisted Disneyland finale.
Those arriving at Magnifique uninitiated might see the album title, hear the album’s kitsch blend of stadium rock guitar and dance beats, and immediately peg Ratatat as a hot new French act. But Ratatat instead hail from Brooklyn, and have been releasing unpretentious, largely instrumental dance music for over a decade. The five year gap between Magnifique and its predecessor LP4 wasn’t used to comprehensively remodel their sound.
Ratatat showed some real growth on their first three records. The Brooklyn duo of Mike Stroud and Evan Mast managed to etch out their own place among countless Brooklyn indie acts in the early aughts because of a vibrant, experimental sound that’s very much guitar-powered. Their self-titled 2004 debut had a rawness that was endearing, but with 2006’s Classics and especially 2008’s LP3, their songs became more polished and accessible, which is a feat for instrumental music.
After a five year absence, Mike Stroud and Evan Master have returned as Ratatat for another album of synthesized rock instrumentals. Over the course of their career, Ratatat has carved out a distinctive brand of electronic-influenced post-rock, centered largely on the tone of their guitar distortions—a proprietary topcoat of feedback that sharpens the resonance while simultaneously adding heft. It makes for a driving sound, one that soars particularly high during the classic rock solos they love to inject in their songs.
Instrumental duo Ratatat are indie studio geeks with superproducer chops, just as comfortable reimagining Biggie Smalls joints (see 2006's hip-hop-themed Remixes Vol. 2) as they are cranking out grooves that suggest a dreamier Daft Punk. Their first album in five years goes heavy on space-age synths, elegiac guitar cheese and chunky disco beats. There are also a couple of lovely slow tunes that deploy steel guitar, a new addition to their trick bag ("Supreme").
Guitarist Mike Stroud and producer Evan Mast have practically come full circle. Leaving behind the darker, sparse elements of 2010’s LP4, the noodly guitar and synthesiser duo crank up the noise and amplify their skittering energy on this fifth studio album. This news ought to please fans who have spent the past five years waiting for the return of vintage Ratatat, who first appeared in 2004 with an entirely unholy and exciting mishmash of hip-hop production, a squealing guitar and blooping synths.
Sometimes, as an artist, you can revisit the same well and pull different types of water—think of Real Estate, or Chaz Bundick of Toro Y Moi, or Kurt Vile. And then, sometimes, you're just repeating yourself, like Ratatat. There’s nothing regressive or cynical in Ratatat’s consistency, because I do believe these two guys are making the music they want to make (see their game Genius annotations here), but I also think that on Magnifique, their fifth record, the well has dried up.
Returning after five years out of the game, Ratatat's Mike Stroud and Evan Mast have a lot of catching up to do. Since the release of their fourth full-length, LP4, electronic music has evolved as a multifarious beast swallowing up pop, indie, and rock. None of it makes much sense—which is all part of the thrill. .
If you haven’t checked in with Ratatat since their debut in 2004, you’ll be reassured – or nonplussed – to hear that not much has changed in the interim. After a slight detour on their last two records, which attempted to diversify their sound by introducing new instruments and global influences, this fifth album pares it back to the basics: solid instrumental tracks layered with spacey effects and squealing guitars. The urge to sound up to date on tracks such as Cream on Chrome is outweighed by retro impulses – I Will Return is a cover of the 1971 Springwater soft-rock hit.
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.
Hearing the eponymous Ratatat debut LP for the first time as a fresh-faced 18 year old is something that will stay with me for all my days. Like nothing I had ever heard before, the shock, the awe, and the appreciation all came in equal measure for a genre I’m yet to find another artist belonging to. And in the 10 or so years since that release, the New York duo have shown that they indeed own that genre because well, it’s their own genre.
At this point, listening to Ratatat is like eating a banana: palatable to most, exceptional to few, and extremely dependable. In the decade elapsed since their wonderful self-titled debut, Ratatat has made very solid music that has rarely surprised and just as rarely disappointed. Fans who listened to the excellent early single, “Cream on Chrome”, got exactly what they were hoping for—catchy, guitar driven background music steeped in electronica.
Some criticize Ratatat for sticking too closely to their stock in trade of electric guitar hooks, psychedelic synthesizer loops and plush beats. The Brooklyn instrumental duo’s fifth album – their first in five years – stays true to the formula while also bringing a fresh tone and mood. Unlike 2010’s LP4, which is rampant with squealing guitars and experimental outbursts, there’s a lightness to Magnifique.