Ratatat

Ratatat

[Ratatat's LP3] is some kind of cosmic machine music, reflecting not just a stoner’s world of internalized minimalist headbanging but an entire universe of culture, texture, and possibility.
– Zeth Lundy, The Boston Phoenix

To call Ratatat Nintendo music, as most critics are wont to do, is to sell the Brooklyn duo's powers short. Nintendos can't dance, and they sure can't make a room sweaty in three minutes (note: perhaps the Wii can, but not the old-school NES). Maybe the moniker is a decent enough description of the whining eight-bit synths that filter through each of Ratatat's three records, but it doesn't begin to describe the other styles that swirl and tilt their way across the mix: big-time clipped drums lifted straight from bounce and hip-hop, thundering power chords and dueling guitar solos courtesy of 80s hair metal, squishy Beatles mellotron, and a trickle of Indian tablas. All of the lines twist around one another to form some sort of musical Oriental rug that no one would want to step on if only they could keep from dancing.

The duo – guitarist Mike Stroud (a former touring member of Dashboard Confessional) and programmer/bassist Evan “E*Vax” Mast – have achieved a fair amount of notoriety, with their music and beats backing everything from Notorious BIG remixes and Hummer commercials to Louis Vitton fashion shows and DVS skateboarding videos. If the variation of that list surprises you, it shouldn't; Ratatat make distinctly postmodern dance music, appropriating classic sounds and scales into something that is at once familiar and unlike anything you've ever heard. Likewise, their music videos sample heavily from existing works, drawing visual remixes of war films and videos from VH1 Classic. Like the music itself, the videos tend to focus in on single, missable moments and rest there: the heavy sighing of a soldier synchs with the whirry thump of a synthesizer in the clip for “Mirando,” “Flynn”'s melancholy choir broods while Paul Simon stares into the camera with a look of disbelief.

LP3, the group's most recent record, finds them stretching the strings of their snythy machine, tying in gulping drums, singing autoharps, and calm Western guitar runs, and peeking into the quiet patchwork of the territory pioneered by Panda Bear on last year's Person Pitch; the dance beats are still present, but they're girded by a spirit of well-traveled consideration, a tranquil, contemplative spirit that comes with the realization that the world extends beyond the coasts of North America. LP3 is a globetrotting, timetravelling set that makes its runs through the Southwestern states, India, eastern Europe, France, and Studio 54-era New York, sometimes in a single song. The confluence of multicultural flourishes and the band's trademark oomph creates a cleaner, more mature Ratatat that's just as concerned with moving the brain as they are the feet.

If the dreamy melodies threaten to slow the dancefloor, there are enough party tracks on the group's 2004 self-titled debut alone to keep any party moving. When the nervy guitars and distorted drums of that album's instant-classic “Seventeen Years” come crashing, there shouldn't be a dry shirt in the crowd. Their two self-released remix records, where the group re-write the likes of Kanye, Biggie, and Jay-Z, are proof enough that Ratatat knows as well as anyone how to successfully walk the tightropes of rock 'n' roll, dance, and hip-hop.

-Marty Garner

Links

 

Past performances

  • Sep 20, 2008; FAC (sold out)
    with Panther and E*Rock