Music

Ratatat: LP3

Sometimes the innate rhetoric of a photo conveys more meaning than any arrangement of scorching electric guitars and timid beats.


Ratatat

LP3

Label: XL
US Release Date: 2008-07-08
UK Release Date: 2008-07-07
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Haling from Brooklyn, the electronic duo Ratatat -- Mike Stroud, guitars, and Evan “E*vax” Mast, synthesizers and production -- have shot into underground indie prominence since their 2004 self-titled debut. Originally releasing their first single “Seventeen Years” on Evan and his brother’s Audio Dregs label, the group soon began earning serious attention for it (a Hummer ad) and their entire seminal album of high-energy, high-pitched, electronic baroque. Subsequent remixes, as aggregated on Ratatat Remixes Vol. 1, helped extend their viral presence to the point of fashion show videos and soundtracks (Marc Jacobs, Chanel and Louis Vuitton) and commercials (Rhapsody).

Their 2006 sophomore release Classics was well received and lauded as their best yet but, at the same time, raised the question of what the excitement was all about. Its innocuously distorted electronic pop melodies were easily digestible, if not grabbing the listeners’ attention, as they modulated within each meticulously mapped out track. The album was more or less a discombobulated assortment of electronic hooks that lacked any sort of ebb and flow. But heavy attention and praise continued, leading to world tours with the likes of Björk, Daft Punk, Interpol, CSS, Clinic, Franz Ferdinand, the Killers, and Mogwai in the last few years.

LP3, their latest effort, is very much a continuation, and refinement, of their winning formula: fastidious programming, squealing distorted guitars, and twittering bubble gum melodies. Lacking is the throbbing beat and bass foundation that their proclaimed love of hip-hop should propagate. In an interview with AudioJunkies, Mast said, "Hip-hop is the godfather to Ratatat's child. Hip-hop will be Ratatat's best man when Ratatat marries Rihanna. We are blood brothers.” Equally disparate is any visceral connection to their sound. It’s cheery, but emotionally resistant, awash in melodies each more distortion-soaked or harpsichord-like than the next. More than anything, however, LP3 is a reminder of the group’s tiring treble electro pop ethos and the consequences of single-minded hyper-production.

Like in past Ratatat fashion, the sound of Stroud’s guitar, in all its neon-hue distorted glory, is searing and prominent. And never does it sound more grandiose than during its entrance on the opening track, “Shiller” -- an otherwise docile keyboard track with undulating sheen. It triumphs as a harmonized chorus over a teeming laser gun-battle in the background.

Aside from Tetris-toned guitars, old-fashioned pipe organs evoke old-school carousel rides, but to psychedelic and disco twists. “Bird Priest” chugs and cranks along, like it’s the “Wonka Wash”, over its piped chord progression while “Imperials” is a more rhythmic but sinister sounding take on the carousel theme. It’s a motif that could be allegorical, but instead it’s blithe and inconsequential.

An assortment of tracks meddles in international elements without ever establishing any leitmotiv, or achieving cultural transcendence or musical syntheses. Not as Middle-Eastern sounding as the name suggests, “Mumtaz Khan” borrows beats from “Lebanese Blonde” before morphing into a tabla heavy rhythm with ornamental Turkish zils. But the dissonant scraping chords ultimately leave it culturally amorphous, as do the blaring electric guitars. “Mirando” incorporates a distinct yet faint Japanese banjo and “Mi Viejo” also borrows its ethereal melody for an introduction. The latter also features tablas as the basis of the beat over a barely audible churning mix of oscillating effects. Curiously, “Flynn” whose spectral chord progression is decisively reggae (steel drums included) lacks any beat. Reggae, or even implied reggae, with no rhythm is like Rasta blasphemy, the track drifting towards Babylon.

Ratatat is plenty capable of creating great music. Both “Falcon Jab” and “Shempi” are abundant in areas where their other work is deficient: a defining beat, anchoring bass tones, and overall perceptibility. The former begins with a melodic cyber swarm of Robo-bees that rescind and reappear over a funk guitar infused beat. The swarm’s continuous crescendos and decrescendos add depth. “Shempi” immediately takes off with a pipe organ chord structure continually augmented by Justice-like industrial grade cranks and bubbling beeps. Around the one-minute mark, an organ melody, that ignites a pixilated dance frenzy throughout, prevails over the densely layered sounds.

Full of their signature sprightly melodies, blinding electric guitars, and croaking distorted effects Ratatat’s newest release goes neither above nor beyond. Though glimpses of possibility exist (“Falcon Jab” and “Shempi”), and the album is a more coherent and epic expression than previous works, it still fails to excite and mobilize. In other words, variations on a Ratatat theme pervade on LP3. After peaking with their tried and true formulas, the group -- unintentionally reaching predictability and mediocrity -- should look to evolve their sound beyond the arcade and into the dance clubs, and one’s soul.

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The Best Country Music of 2017

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There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

Nonetheless, there are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. There are singers tackling deep, universal matters of the heart and mind. Artists continuing to mess around with a genre that can sometimes seem fixed, but never really is. Musicians and singers have been experimenting within the genre forever, and continue to. As Charlie Worsham sings, "let's try something new / for old time's sake." - Dave Heaton

10. Lillie Mae – Forever and Then Some (Third Man)

The first two songs on Lillie Mae's debut album are titled "Over the Hill and Through the Woods" and "Honky Tonks and Taverns". The music splits the difference between those settings, or rather bears the marks of both. Growing up in a musical family, playing fiddle in a sibling bluegrass act that once had a country radio hit, Lillie Mae roots her songs in musical traditions without relying on them as a gimmick or costume. The music feels both in touch with the past and very current. Her voice and perspective shine, carrying a singular sort of deep melancholy. This is sad, beautiful music that captures the points of view of people carrying weighty burdens and trying to find home. - Dave Heaton



9. Sunny Sweeney – Trophy (Aunt Daddy)

Sunny Sweeney is on her fourth album; each one has felt like it didn't get the attention it deserved. She's a careful singer and has a capacity for combining humor and likability with old-fashioned portrayal of deep sadness. Beginning in a bar and ending at a cemetery, Trophy projects deep sorrow more thoroughly than her past releases, as good as they were. In between, there are pills, bad ideas, heartbreak, and a clever, true-tearjerker ballad voicing a woman's longing to have children. -- Dave Heaton



8. Kip Moore – Slowheart (MCA Nashville)

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7. Chris Stapleton – From a Room: Volume 1 (Mercury Nashville)

If Chris Stapleton didn't really exist, we would have to invent him—a burly country singer with hair down to his nipples and a chainsaw of a soul-slinging voice who writes terrific throwback outlaw-indebted country songs and who wholesale rejects modern country trends. Stapleton's recent rise to festival headliner status is one of the biggest country music surprises in recent years, but his fans were relieved this year that his success didn't find him straying from his traditional wheelhouse. The first installment of From a Room once again finds Stapleton singing the hell out of his sturdy original songs. A Willie Nelson cover is not unwelcome either, as he unearths a semi-obscure one. The rest is made up of first-rate tales of commonality: Whether he's singing about hard-hurtin' breakups or resorting to smoking them stems, we've all been there. -- Steve Leftridge



6. Carly Pearce – Every Little Thing (Big Machine)

Many of the exciting young emerging artists in country music these days are women, yet the industry on the whole is still unwelcoming and unforgiving towards them. Look at who's getting the most radio play, for one. Carly Pearce had a radio hit with "Every Little Thing", a heartbreaking ballad about moments in time that in its pace itself tries to stop time. Every Little Thing the album is the sort of debut that deserves full attention. From start to finish it's a thoroughly riveting, rewarding work by a singer with presence and personality. There's a lot of humor, lust, blues, betrayal, beauty and sentimentality, in proper proportions. One of the best songs is a call for a lover to make her "feel something", even if it's anger or hatred. Indeed, the album doesn't shy away from a variety of emotions. Even when she treads into common tropes of mainstream country love songs, there's room for revelations and surprises. – Dave Heaton

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