To subject yourself to the sound of Ratatat is brave on a whole new level. They’re an unstable, unnerving duo, priding themselves to provocation and experimentation. Make no mistake: they ward off more listeners than they lure in.
Witness Ratatat live and you see the band in their full costume: plumes of smoke rising from the base of the stage, one member jostling with his guitar while the other’s samples provide a mystical foreground. Most of the time, you can’t even see the two through the fog as the distracting, thick bass notes that pulse throughout the set treat your ears with disrespect and lack of sympathy. It’s a unique, cinematic experience without the enhancement of a giant screen of visuals and laser beams. The albums leave you feeling just as baffled and enlightened, LP4 being a case in point.
Recorded at the back-end of what press releases like to call their “prolific” spell at Old Soul studios, Mike Stroud and Evan Mast’s fourth record could snuggle up nicely with their last work as a double album. But whilst LP3 played out a band getting to grips with new equipment and new ideas, this latest album – recorded at the climax of their session at the upstate New York studio – is less about exploration and exudes far more confidence than its predecessor.
It perhaps shows the band at their creative peak; far away from any other act out there, tactically combining trivial soundbytes, ethnic drums, slap bass amongst plenty more, daring to match sonic elements that no other sane human being would. Yet somehow it works in their favour. If anything, Ratatat have removed themselves from any kind of comparison with LP4. It’s on an entirely different planet. No-one comes remotely close.
Defining the album is the duo’s signature guitar sound: seemingly spawned from ’70s US crime drama theme tunes, suitable for ridiculous air guitar routines. It splits opinion but it’s also the one instrumental piece amongst a thousand that allows people to identify Ratatat when they hear one of their songs.
Another characteristic of theirs is a knack for variety. Wrestling together on LP4 are detuned synth lines and bongo drum patterns (Party With Children), futuristic space bleeps and deep-toned beatboxing (should-be single Neckbrace) and Latino guitars with what might just be a harmonica on Bare Feast. It all makes for something both off-putting and infectious, planting its roots on the borderline between disaster and sheer brilliance.
To subject yourself to 12 tracks of such diverse instrumentation is a challenge. The fact that not a single effort edges over the five-minute mark helps, but there are patches in which the pace is skewed and the listener’s interest wanders off someplace else. We Can’t Be Stopped and Bob Gandhi come after an onslaught of an opening trio of songs and, although refreshing, are likely to be found far less entrancing.
LP4, without a shadow of a doubt, is the most self-indulgent, unpredictable record of the year so far. It’s a sonic experience not unlike Flying Lotus‘ Cosmogramma, requiring pitch black darkness and isolation to be fully appreciated. Many will declare the whole thing ridiculous and tiresome. Others will join hands with the duo, who are clearly having an unhealthy amount of fun and aren’t showing any signs of stopping.