Ratatat - Magnifique
by Jed Fletcher
The long awaited seventh LP of one of electronic music’s most ground-breaking acts, Ratatat is here under then audacious title Magnifique. To quickly fill you in if you’re not a long-standing fan of the band, they’re a duo straight out of Brooklyn, New York. The band’s sound is totally unique with the same electronically altered guitar notes used in all their songs being immediately recognisable to anyone who’s stumbled upon their music before. With neither of the members, Mike Stroud and Evan Mast, being vocalists Ratatat’s tracks are only ever instrumentals, remixes or collaborations – but unlike a regular electro act, their material has an awesome hand-made quality to it, due to the consistency in instrumental samples used and the lo-fi production that comes as a given in every song.
Having released their previous six albums in six years, the five year wait for Magnifique since they’re last release in 2010 was understandably excruciating for fans of the twosome. Then out of nowhere, playing at the festival Coachella in the States, a new track named Cream on Chrome was played for the first time on stage to thousands of fans who subsequently went completely mental. Just three months later Cream on Chrome tops the list of tracks on the new LP following a minute-long intro. The single is designed to inspire excitement on every level – not only due to the timing of its release, but also in its structure, starting loud with a progressive guitar sequence layered over classic Ratatat keyboard notes then lurching into the band’s famous climactic sequences.
The tracks that ensue after Cream on Chrome, however, give the fan listening a cause for concern. It’s been eleven years since Ratatat’s eponymous debut album was released, and they’ve stuck to their guns throughout their career since, so after a huge wait for Magnifique, it would be upsetting if the band were to follow too closely their past formula. Though the third track, Abrasive opens with a 1990s style pop-rock strumming of guitar, which melts rapidly into what sounds like the theme tune of a classic Gameboy game, it is soon enough crafted into a generic Ratatat song. The same issue applies to the title track and to Countach, which immediately follows.
Jumping ahead, I can tell you that Magnifique is not a collection of radically new sounds and experiments by the New Yorkers. In fact, I’d say seven of the twelve tracks on the LP are pretty standard of their previous work. But when an artist is renowned for pioneering a sound specific only to them, then it naturally follows that you’ll be hearing the same old thing throughout their recording career. So what determines how good a record this one is, is the quality of the songs that break from the Ratatat mould.
The middle listing on the album is Drift; it features a plodding duo of synth melodies which combine with a humble flux of guitar and subtle percussion elements, all come together and form a thoroughly calming composition unlike many others I’ve heard in the genre. Soon after we get to Nightclub Amnesia which, given its title sounds like a pseudonym of MDMA, doesn’t disappoint. A messy thumping of electronic beats commences the longest track on the album before scratchy guitar samples are thrown into the mix. Peculiarly, mid-way in to the uncharacteristically full-on tune, the music settles into what should be a whole new track, led by bass guitar and a faint clapping – the whole experience of the song matches its title as the unexpected transition leaves the listener as perplexed as when trying to remember a particularly frantic club night.
On the other end of the spectrum of the band’s versatility in Magnifique is Supreme, a piece which takes the form of a Hawaiian beach theme under some sort of psychedelic veil – twisting pitches of the electric guitar slip amongst each other amid a deftly sculpted background production. The same tranquillity exhibited in Supreme and Drift before it emerges again in I Will Return. Yet again Ratatat prove their skill in producing electronic instrumentals as every tone, descent and crescendo in the last full track of the album reflect the title of the track – an amazing achievement without lyrics and while remaining consistent with the rest of an album.
I mentioned before that the two-piece have a right to compromise on variation of sound in their recording due to their exceptional circumstance of being a bona fide pioneer within their area of the industry. Adding to this, it is quite obvious to anyone who has put the work of Ratatat to their ears that their songs are very suited to being background music. So, coming to the end of Magnifique, it’s startling how original the band still manages to be after six previous records. From new combinations of samples, to exquisite choices of titles, to their instrumentals, there’s a plethora of intricacies to be appreciated by fans old and new alike. The outro to the album bears a resemblance to God Only Knows by The Beach Boys, and so with the airport scene from Love Actually resurrected in my mind, it feels oh so good to have Ratatat back in our lives.