In music, familiarity is a double-edged sword. On one side exists constants — the musical constants that can bring a band from obscurity to the spotlight without ever being altered. As bands continue to adapt and evolve within their musical surroundings, the second edge emits that omniscient voice, that nagging feeling, that most devilish of advocates — the age old question: What’s next?
It’s this voice that often times proves to be the downfall for even the most unflappable outfits. As creative and economic pressures pile up, it’s up to the artists to decide whether they want comfortable continuity or a more varied canon.
However, familiarity and consistency have yet to be a bane for Brooklyn (via Washington, D.C.) electro-rock duo Ratatat. Over the past six years and four full-length albums, Ratatat has taken the road most traveled — barely tweaking its sound — yet now finds itself sitting near the top of today’s over-populated indie scene.
With its latest release, LP4, Ratatat has indeed stayed true to the sounds and textures that have propelled it to its current status. Back again are the squealing electric guitars, and the remix-ready hip-hop beats, both neatly situated alongside the (often startling) vocal sample intros and shimmering harp sweeps.
This isn’t to say that the duo’s latest offering is all formula and no substance. In fact, LP4 contains some of the most concrete examples of Ratatat’s electronic music prowess to date, but with three old albums containing songs all too similar to the 11 presented here, the music can’t help but exhale its overwhelming sense of anticipation — the anticipation of a pending, and welcomed, stylistic variation.
This album begins, just as 2008’s LP3 did, with a sprawlingly discordant intro song. Here, “Bilar” sets the table full of the myriad of sounds that are to be heard on the rest of the album, but remains disjointed until the classic Ratatat bassline fully drops on the second track, “Drugs.” Now masters of their specialized style, Evan Mast and Mike Stroud know how to please their listeners. The intricate layers of lead single “Party With Children” are a near-palpable sensory delight that make it impossible to prevent an unconscious bob of the head.
“Sunblocks,” the following track, continues in that vein, showcasing everything that this duo has mastered after almost a decade of working together. Its wailing, harmonized guitars, scattershot bongo hits, and lush synth-swells prove this song to be an example of how Ratatat’s often-convoluted instrumentation can work to absolute perfection. Though these two erase any doubts of the band’s level of consistency or their ability to create gorgeous melodies on top of piles of bouncing beats, it is this musical déjà vu that ultimately detracts from the lasting value of the album.
While LP4 was mostly recorded during the LP3 sessions, it still seems like more of a cop-out in the face of that looming question than an actual foray into musical evolution. So, what’s next? These songs play as if they are an unwavering extension of a pubescent goal, and if that goal involves dwelling in a self-imposed comfort zone, Ratatat will remain a band surrounded by constant hype for the sole reason that the masses are expecting a change.
Despite its ubiquitous vinyl crackles, LP4 fails to impress on a masterful level. That being said, after releasing two critically acclaimed hip-hop remix albums and working with indie giants such as MGMT and Kid Cudi, Ratatat has effectually transcended different levels of success. Though not a band destined to go platinum, Ratatat has legitimized its own organic brand of electronic music through nonstop quality, and hasn’t allowed anything to dismantle this well oiled machine.