In 2004, Ratatat were an effective duo but I was sure they were destined for one-off status. Even over the course of one eleven track album, the duo had failed to show much dynamic range in their performance. They either hit (“Cherry”, “Seventeen Years”) or labored between exploring their unique sound (“Germany to Germany”) or laboring through it (“Lapland”, Everest”). Their project of hip-hop remixes that same year didn’t do much to change that impression, and I would have been very satisfied if Ratatat had just left the project alone at that point. What good is a band continuing onward, if at best they just sound like Ratatat doing Ratatat?
After two fairly well received LPs I personally couldn’t get any joy out of for the reasons outlined above, I was shocked to see Ratatat in the credits for KiD CuDi’s Man on the Moon production. Not only were Ratatat still around, but their profile was growing and influence expanding. What wasn’t so shocking was how token and generic their productions sounded, but I mention that journey only to say that LP4, as much as it can be, is a surprise. There are still plenty of hallmark Ratatat sounds, but unlike the clunky LP3 this album finds the duo hiding them in much more enjoyable detours. “Bilar” takes nearly two minutes to sound like a generic Ratatat joint, at which point it takes on an admirable funky bop thanks to well-placed keyboards.
“Drugs” then drops in behind a found sound and Peter and the Wolf-worthy drama, once again feeling comfortably Ratatat but dressed up in a mixture of Justice and worldly rhythm patterns to help hide the stench. “Neckbrace” finds Ratatat chasing after left-field choices like Vitalic, modeling itself around a Rahzelian beatbox that constantly drops the song off in different places than it left off. It’s a bit of showmanship and craftiness that I really can’t recall hearing from the group at any time, something that doesn’t feel so concerned with living up to the idea of Ratatat as being a good, interesting song.
It’s not long after that the album begins to feel like a Ratatat album even if it doesn’t much sound like one, though. The way the group breaks into “Mandy”, a song anchored by a very strong AIR-like vocoder effect and fairly weak snare drum, is interesting but then they go into their familiar pattern of flipping the song inside out for a moment, coming back to the groove and flipping it one more time. There’s also their familiar method of recycling ideas, though I think the retry on KiD CuDi’s “Pursuit of Happiness” for “Sunblocks” might be too obvious for some. It’s a much more enjoyable song without CuDi’s faux-singing, though, and goes a ways towards explaining how Ratatat’s vision has expanded as time’s worn on. It’s a shame CuDi’s version had to sound so generically Ratatat in comparison.
Still, LP4 is very definitely the first Ratatat album I’ve listened to since their self-titled debut and felt like investing further time into it. The tropes I previously found annoying and pandering are, for the most part, working in the band’s favor again. More importantly, a little time away and a chance to work with other artists appears to have expanded the duo’s palette a great deal, allowing them to experiment as they did on LP3 without giving such a frenzied impression. This Ratatat is a confident group, but it’s also a much more creative one compared to where they’ve been most of this decade. I wouldn’t say this is a better record than Ratatat, but this is definitely an album that causes me to question my opinion of them going forward. Namely, that they’re all gimmick and little substance. They’ve got the ideas, now they just need the hits again.