Ratatat LP4

[XL; 2010]

Rating: 2/5

Styles: arena electronica
Others: Justice, MGMT, Daft Punk, Javelin, Panther, The Advantage

Maybe this was inevitable. Nobody has really been denying that Ratatat’s trade is in immediate gratification. And when that’s the case, it’s a difficult feat not to burn out pretty quickly. 2008’s LP3, though weak, served at least to reassure Ratatat’s audience that the band doesn’t want to stagnate; you can’t rewrite “17 Years” forever, after all, and it’s admirable that they chose not to.

But what they managed to do with their prior releases was inspire a kind of faith that they could effortlessly wow us. 2006’s Classics was such an immaculate maturation of their sound that there wasn’t any room left to keep pushing themselves in the same direction. They had to move laterally. They did a fair job with LP3, but it was clear that they were a little uncomfortable in their new skin. Optimistically, it had the appearance of growing pains, rather than the beginning of their descent.

LP4, however, is troubling evidence that that optimism may have been in vain. The best-case scenario would be for it to expand on the experiments of LP3, putting that album into perspective as the obvious stepping stone to this new Ratatat, one perhaps with less vigor but more nuance. Instead what we get is a largely muddled, pale shadow of Ratatat. The hooks lay flaccid, resembling scale exercises rather than the fierce, gripping barbs of previous work. The instrumental vocabulary is indeed broader, but you could be forgiven for not even noticing — it’s cheap tinsel on the same formula (a word I never thought I’d use in describing this band). The whole thing just sounds like habit.

Note, for instance, how after four minutes of giving us almost nothing to sink our teeth into, “Bob Gandhi” unceremoniously makes a quick, defeated exit. Its one crutch is the obligatory inclusion of their signature guitar harmonies, which succeeds only in signaling, “Here is the song’s hook.” It’s actually a little convincing at first, but the content is just uninspired floundering. “Neckbrace” begins promisingly with some compelling percussive elements, but its second half devolves into the aimless pushing of buttons. “Mandy” presents some similarly arbitrary buzzing and gurgling, while “Grape Juice City” and “Alps” are all but conceptually bankrupt. “We Can’t Be Stopped” and “Mahalo” flirt with some genuinely emotive atmospheres, and on an entirely different Ratatat record, they would act as contemplative respites from the party surrounding them; but here, they’re lifeless husks.

In fact, much of the record possesses a kind of flat tedium. These aren’t compositions, strictly speaking, like the ones we’ve known Ratatat to be capable of. It’s as though these songs had 30 tracks recorded for their chord patterns, and each is faded in or out without concern for an overall structure other than to layer things more densely as time passes to create the illusion of some kind of progression.

What’s frustrating is that beneath the surface of LP4 there appears to be the basis for a great record. But its execution is too rote, too much the result of being so entrenched in the band’s Ratatat-ness that the material is suffocated. If we wish to remain optimistic, we can take solace in the fact that because these tracks were conceived during the same sessions as LP3, maybe they are only the final, sputtering wheezes of Ratatat Part I. Or maybe we’ll get a couple more variations on “17 Years” in 2012.

Links: Ratatat - XL

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