Ratatat’s self-titled debut does it all

Sunday, August 05, 2018, 8:55 AM EDT

electronic-rock indietronica ratatat rocktronica

  • Name: Ratatat
  • Artist: Ratatat
  • Year: 2004
  • Label: XL Recordings
  • Genre: Electronic rock
  • Length: 45:25

Album Review: Ratatat by Ratatat

Give Evan Mast and Mike Stroud, two guys from Brooklyn, guitars, a synth, and a drum kit and they compose these crazy, nostalgic, fully-instrumental tracks that seem to comprehend the full spectrum of human emotion in 4-minute songs. Wikipedia has Ratatat’s self-titled debut album down as “electronica, electronic rock, experimental rock, neo-psychedelia;” I think the first two are closest to the mark.

The psychedelia really enters Ratatat’s aesthetic when it comes to their visuals and live performances (like this excellent 2015 rendition of “Seventeen Years” ); also, many of their later albums are increasingly psychelic. The best way to describe the music of their first record, though, is baroque electronic rock. The way that they layer their sound, complete with Bach-style melodies, counterpoints, variations, modulations, and musical themes, makes Ratatat seem like a 21st-century reimagining of the 17th-century master’s art. I had Ratatat’s relationship with Bach in my head before I recently stumbled across a Harvard Crimson interview with Even Mast, where he stated that Ratatat’s greatest source of musical inspiration was “Bach … I really like his melodies. He kinda wrote the book on melody making,” which is the understatement of the century.

On Ratatat, Mast and Stroud manage to combine their classical inspirations with a gritty, rock-n’-roll bassline and a dazzling, almost hip-hoppy drumline. For me, much of this album’s appeal comes from its ability to combine similarly disparate concepts and ideas: it’s classical, it’s rock, it’s electronica, it’s indie, it’s nostalgic, it’s melancholy, it’s jubilant, it’s explosive – the duo’s electric guitar work is sometimes suddenly remniscent of the shredding guitar solos of earlier classical rock. It never seems forced or artificial, it’s just the relaxed musings of two guys from Brooklyn. And the album has its moments of almost comical quirkiness. For instance, it contains a number of brief excerpts of a man’s voice saying essentially nonsensical things, who according to Evan Mast in an early interview, is “a guy named Young Churf. It’s a guy from our neighborhood. He’s a rapper”; at the beginning of “Seventeen Years,” the album’s first track, Young Churf seems to say, “I’ve been rapping for about seveteen years, okay? / I don’t write my stuff anymore. I just kick it from my head you know what I’m sayin? / I can do that. No disrespect but that’s how I am!” with no bearing at all on the rest of the track or album.

Some of my favorite tracks on this album include “Seventeen Years”, “El Pico”, “Breaking Away”, and “Cherry” — the last of which concludes the album perfectly, and is a slow-building, moody, and eventually blissful track that portends much of the more psychedelic and experimental music to come from Ratatat later in their career. Listening to this album just takes my breath away; it’s especially perfect for reading. Thanks to Anthony Li for introducing me to Ratatat’s music at an ångstromCTF work session four years ago!

Listen to Ratatat

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