Mike Stroud and Evan Mast have been damn busy lately. Anyone who has watched TV in the past few weeks might have noticed a new Rhapsody commercial featuring the track “Wildcat” off the spectacular 2006 album Classics. The dance beat duo, better known as Ratatat, have also released the second of their Remix’s series, which is available for free off their website. They have also helped out Bjork with the excellent remix of her song “Wanderlust”, and by the way, check out the video if you haven’t already. When you add all of this to releasing a new and arguably more adventurous album, you have one hell of a year so far.
The follow up to their 2006 record, LP3 sounds like an album the guys have wanted to make for some time now. Recorded at Old Soul Studios in the Catskill Mountains of upstate New York, LP3 immediately feels stripped back, almost tribal at times when compared to other records that had more hip-hop beat emphasis. Opting for more live instruments rather than electronic beat machines and synthesizers, you can hear a crispness in the still heavy beats that now come from a drum kit. You also get a wider range of percussion and strings, bringing in a more present guitar sound, as well as a stronger presence of harpsichords and autoharps, to name just a few. The album only took a few weeks to lie down, and a first for the band, they decided to mix it in a studio, adding an additional layer of atmosphere.
Listening to the intro of the first track, “Shiller” the strings really stand out. Simple keyboards with cello and harpsichord start the album off with a great build up into stand out electric guitars and backing autoharp. The entire song is one long introduction into the next track, “Falcon Jab”, bringing in the Richter scale sized beats that Ratatat does so well. This time however, the presence of bongos adds a Caribbean flavor, while funk guitars and bass carry the song into a world of head bobbing bliss. Pianos and a talk box also make an appearance, and when brought all together, you have something that is hard not to get excited about.
One thing that draws me to good instrumental music is its ability to flow from one track into the next, letting the listener’s imagination run wild. LP3 is a great example of this. Each track blends into the next, not stretching too far, feeling like one long musical odyssey. The way “Mi Viejo” ends in a tribal percussion sound off, then flows right into “Mirando”, a mix of wholly new material and familiar elements, almost seems as if it should be one song.
Any one of these tracks is ripe for the picking from an artist looking to lay down vocals. Already fellow musicians from Animal Collective have picked up “Mirando” and done their own work on it, including a variety of other D.J.s and mixologists have begun remix work on several other tracks. A classic Ratatat song, “Shempi” brings back the older techniques that got them noticed as beat makers to begin with, as the keys and percussions bring in a 70’s club vibe. The song itself carries the most pop value out of the rest of the album, so I wouldn’t be surprised if it too is reincarnated in other forms.
Stroud and Mast seemed to have grown into a healthy comfort zone with their consistently unique sound. From albums to remixes, you know when Ratatat has laid their style on to a piece of music the second you hear the guitars, and as musicians that is quite an accomplishment. It is evident that they have looked outside the box for this album, bringing in a more diverse range of live instruments, rather than just synthesizing them on a computer. The styles flow from afro-beat to trip-hop with the addition of more present sound of guitars that really accentuates their individuality.
The album ends on a slower note with “Black Heroes” as they incorporate a marching drum beat to a slower melody, fading out at the end. It’s a sad ending to a great record, though not musically by any means, it is a clear indication that the daydreaming is over and it’s time to check back in to reality. It’s hard to put exactly into words just how excellent; yet subtly different the album is from their previous work. All I can suggest is that you get a hold of it, and turn it up.