Ratatat Branch Out and Gear Up
Do androids dream of electric pianos?
By Michael D. Ayers, The Village Voice
Wednesday, July 7 2008
Last fall, while you were still debating whether LCD Soundsystem or Battles was the best electro-rock band of 2007, Ratatatâ€” Brooklyn’s other white meatâ€”were upstate in Catskill, holed up at an old mansion where former president Martin Van Buren got married. It’s not a destination site or anything, and the two dudes who comprise the bandâ€”Evan Mast and Mike Stroudâ€”aren’t exactly history buffs. It’s just that the house is now owned by some guy known as “The Wolf” (dig the Pulp Fiction reference), who has christened the place Old Soul Studios and taken to producing folks like Joseph Arthur, Willy Mason, and someone/some band called Mr. Forky.
Ratatat had initially dropped by just to help out a buddy who records as White Flight, but soon they stumbled across some recording time of their own, not to mention a bevy of new instruments to fuck around with. “It was really dingy and dark all over the placeâ€”spiders and cobwebs in the corners,” guitarist Stroud recalls. “But you’re just surrounded by instruments. There are 20 different kinds of organs, mellotrons, and good recording equipment. When we come home and look at our bullshit studio, we laugh.”
Thus, the duo’s third full-length, LP3, retains their trademark drippy, slow, synthetic, stoned-to-the-bone vibeâ€”but graced with multiple layers of fresh instrumentation, a newfound warmth shines through. “We were always trying to stretch the limits of what we had,” beatmaker Mast says. “I felt like we didn’t have to struggle to make the sounds themselves interesting. Weird instruments that we didn’t know how to playâ€”it forces you to try new things.”
On their previous two records, a certain Daft Punkâ€“ian sentiment (sans robot-wear) always bubbled to the surface, even though they were very much concerned with utilizing instruments (with computers still pervasive, but relegated more to the back burner). LP3 is a stronger outing, though it’s not necessarily harder or fasterâ€” “Mi Viejo” feels light and breezy, with an autoharp fluttering around a tribal-sounding beat, while the short, poppy “BruleÃ©” bounces along, the sound of a lost island jam coming home. Oddest of all is “Gipsy Threat,” a quick, laser-filled, Wild Westâ€“ish getaway ode, one of the strangest compositions to date for these guysâ€”but it works. These days, Ratatat songs seem to tell a complete story (musically, at least), one that’s sometimes linear and sometimes not.
Even with the fresh artillery, though, LP3 presents a common problem for Ratatat: how to reproduce such a racket live. In conversation, Mast and Stroud both stutter around the issue, conveying a rather youthful perplexity as they explain that in the studio, one guy usually plays while the other layers and engineers. But now it’s down to what two guys can create in real time. “A lot of the sounds were just in that houseâ€”we can’t just steal all that stuff and take it on tour,” Stroud notes. The Wolf can’t save them now.