Album Review: Ratatat est tres Magnifique

Imagine you’re sitting in your car listening to the radio. No, wait – imagine you’re sitting in a DeLorean listening to the radio. Nope, nope, you’re sitting in THE DeLorean, with the hover-wheels folded down and Michael J Fox chilling arms folded on the bonnet, and you spin the radio dial. What do you hear? Screech of static. Jangly piano. Are we heading into the nineteeth century? The Queen-esque twang of the slide guitar tells us different. Everything seems solidly eighties until – a walking bass and sharp beat kicks in and is soon maxxed out. That beat is Cream on Chrome, and you have just found Magnifique, Ratatat’s fifth and hotly anticipated album.

In our recent interview with one half of Brooklyn based instrumental pair Ratatat, Mike Stroud was so happy with the duo’s latest album he called it their best album. Why? “I feel like we went back to doing what we’re good at which is using guitar for all the melodies and everything. I just think the songs are more memorable and simple. I don’t know, why do you think it is?” In Magnifique, diversity is key. With a twist of a radio dial introducing most songs, the whole album is a determined catch-call of “BUT LOOK AT MY RANGE!” Stroud and Evan Mast were determined to show exactly how much is accomplishable with a simple guitar and electronic set up. For this album the melodies were written first, and not basing each track around electronic bass or beat mean a cleaner, directed sound. Doomed to be victims of comparison, Stroud beat us to the punch declaring that this album was a lot like their beloved and fun 2006 album Classics, while LP3 and LP4 were “more about the production.” If you were a fan of Classics, you will certainly be enjoying Magnifique as the effect of those guitars and stacked beats has only been finessed in the four years since their last release.

Running through the album, the radio slides and static twists are the glue that bind each track together. I feel the album was designed to be disjointed – there is no meaningful connection from one track to the next except for an occasional spin of the dial. Take three of the middle tracks – Countach is a deep, heavy electronic warp that is bookended by Abrasive, a bendy, strung out guitar-centric four minutes punctuated with lo-fi drum and midi synth, and Drift, a jazzy interlude featuring a striding bass that sounds like it’s being played on a jug and whines of synth sliding up and down like the crying of a sooky cat. Style and structures jump all over the place. The sound strays from rich warps and wubs resonating through your stomping feet to thin, stringy sparkly guitar riffs in Pricks of Brightness and lush tropical strains as Supreme washes through you like rain, seeping and swelling. There is a lot packed into fourteen tracks, a lot to admire and also a lot to wonder at. The attention to detail is obvious, and the mesh of electronic and guitar melodies is at its strongest in Nightclub Amnesia. My favourite of the album, this exceedingly well-titled track is exactly the glitch and thump you’re after. At six minutes long, things slow down around the 2.40 mark only to be brought up with a pulsing hi-hat and funky bassline you would follow anywhere.

What do you do with this album? Sometimes you can dance to it. Sometimes you can jam to it. Sometimes, like when the violin strains of the title track takes you, you could fall asleep to it. The album’s outro, when you come to it, is so distinct and fitting as the spinning reel comes to an end. You know this has been a labour of love, and the level of detail found in each track will speak for itself. Listen and learn, and find out for yourself.