“Eine Romanze,” says a voice at the end of the opening track of LP4; a romance. The voice is a sample from Werner Herzog’s Stroszek – the beginning of a passage in which the film’s main character calls his instruments his best friends. “Wo landen diese Instrumente?” he ponders; where do these instruments land?
In the hands of Ratatat, those instruments land on the dance floor, in car stereos, on rooftops and in basements. The instruments (and instrumentals) fall in the most unlikely places, thrown there by infectious melodies and bombastic rhythms crafted by Evan Mast and Mike Stroud. LP4 is the duo’s most sonically diverse offering to date, the next step in the development of Ratatat’s sound. If guitars and keyboards are Ratatat’s best friends, they must have killer Saturday nights.
Perhaps most notably, Mast and Stroud have invited more friends to the party this time around. There are string sections and autoharps like we haven’t heard before, combined with flecks and flashes of color via creative obfuscation of the usual guitar and synth suspects. The drums are more central in places, taking on a borderline tribal feel on songs like “Party With Children” and “Grape Juice City.” The vocal modifications introduced on LP3’s “Falcon Jab” resurface on “Bob Gandhi” and “Mandy” in more dynamic form. LP4 is an old friend with new clothes, simultaneously a step forward and a return to form.
LP4 regains the swagger of youth embodied by Ratatat – the joie de vivre that makes their first four releases (including Remixes Vols. I and II) explode. This album is a little older and wiser, developing songs rather than simply constructing them, but the band has aged gracefully. Unlike the tunes on LP3, few songs here fade gently. Where that album had its share of snoozers, LP4 is a party from beginning to end, with few gaps. “Party With Children” may be the most sonically complete song the duo has produced. “Neckbrace” brims and bubbles with a unique approach that confirms Ratatat’s place a notch above their competition. “Bilar” and “Drugs” recall the band’s best early work, where “Grape Juice City” and “Mandy” seem years ahead and better for the trip.
It seems strange that LP4 is so clearly superior to LP3, given that the two albums were recorded in the same session – a recording binge that reportedly yielded 30 tracks. The tracks chosen for LP3 were cautious, a tentative step away from Ratatat’s tried and true formula that wasn’t quite sure where the path led. Stroud himself admitted LP4’s superiority in an interview with Paste magazine, saying, “We felt like the rest of [the tracks from the session] were better than LP3. So like, LP3 would be like a teaser to LP4.”
I’ll take it a step further: LP3 wasn’t a teaser, it was a disappointment. It lacked the big tracks like “Seventeen Years” and “Lex” that characterized Ratatat’s first pair of albums. Moreover, it lacked purpose – LP3 was a meandering album destined to fade into the background. It was a compromise in musical form, a charismatic band sounding complacent.
The tunes on LP4 seem to have a better sense of trajectory – they display better command of the new tools hanging from the band’s toolbelt. Listening to LP4 after LP3 is like going from earbuds to speakers – the sound is richer, more luscious. It’s Ratatat in IMAX. Simply put, this album is the most comprehensive album Ratatat has made to date. It may not be their best – in my personal romance with Ratatat I will never forget my first love, that saucy minx Ratatat – but for a band whose very nature consistently teeters on the edge of simple recapitulation it is an important progression. Ratatat has found a way to continue to push the edge of their aural envelope – LP4 plays like the revelation that there may be more beneath the surface than what first met the eye. Words by Chris Barth.
78 — Great. Great. A stand-out in its genre. Multiple listens demanded! [Rating Scale]