On their eponymous debut, the members of Ratatat made their guitars sound like synthesizers, and the resultant electro/hip-hip/rock hybrid made them instant darlings of the blogosphere. They expanded on their sound for 2006’s Classics, which scored them an opening slot for Daft Punk and a subsequent world tour. LP3 marks a further departure from their original method. For this recording, the duo retreated to “Old Soul,” a supposedly haunted house in Catskill, New York, for forty days and forty nights. In addition to its supernatural inhabitants, the studio housed an array of keyboard instruments, from a grand piano to a harpsichord.
Using actual keyboards as a backdrop gives these new tracks room to breathe, and more often than not, the guitars actually sound like guitars. Still, there’s no mistaking this for anything other than Ratatat. Evan Mast’s beats are as twitchy and funky as ever, and Mike Stroud’s melodies would still fit in equally well at a rock show or a dance party. While staying within this distinctive framework, they cover a broader area stylistically than on their previous efforts, due partly to the greater variety of instruments available to them and partly to their increasing compositional skill.
The leap from the constant high-energy rave-up of their debut to the more subtle workings of Classics was impressive enough, but the ability shown here to segue smoothly from dance-oriented tracks (“Shempi”) to more emotional fare (“Black Heroes”) is the mark of a band that is in full control of its sound.
At times, Ratatat are even able to subsume elements of world music into their guitar-keys-drum lineup without sounding like they’re stretching too far. The worldbeat-percussion outro of “Mi Viejo” sounds like a drum circle had traded in their bongos for drum machines. “Mumtaz Khan,” which was reportedly written after an encounter with an Egyptian rug dealer, would be the ideal soundtrack to a party underneath the pyramids. And “Gipsy Threat” shares the same driving Eastern European rhythm that A Hawk and a Hacksaw and Gogol Bordello have recently made popular.
Previously, Ratatat’s live instrumentation kept them at a fair distance from other dance-centric electronic duos. LP3 serves to broaden this gap even further. More often than not, this record sounds like the work of a full band. It is the most realized of their albums to date, and it showcases the group fully exploring the possibilities of the niche that they created for themselves two records ago.