By now, you’ve probably caught Ratatat during one of their tour dates with Interpol, the Stills, or Tortoise, or you’ve heard an unfathomable amount of hype surrounding the band and want to know how they can mesh rock, hip-hop and electronic music without sounding like the Postal Service. Or not.
Consisting of Mike Stroud and Evan Mast — the former being a touring guitarist for Dashboard Confessional and Ben Kweller, the latter being head of Portland’s Audio Dregs Records and Ratatat-like laptop project, E*vax — Ratatat’s eponymous debut is nearly perfect for its ability to appeal to lovers of electronic and alternative rock music alike. And it’s no wonder — the masterminds behind the group have musical interests ranging from Jay-Z to the Rolling Stones. As a result, Ratatat not only contains strong beats that all listeners could nod their heads to, but also ambiguously electronic, dynamic melodies topped off with sharp guitar solos.
The band has been called the classical composer of today’s generation, and though the duo may not quite reach that point of intricacy in their music, they are able to combine aspects of other musicians that make for a thought-provoking combination: the beats of rapper Beans, the playful synth-rock of the Unicorns, and the heavy electric pop of Daft Punk.
What comparable bands lack, however, is the constant duet between Stroud and Mast, who beautifully play off each other in a way that can slice like a knife in the midst of a soft melody. As much as their songs involve repetitive musical elements, the overall sound of the album is indeed dynamic; from the guitar and beat-heavy “Germany to Germany” to the sweetly soothing “Cherry” (also the original name of the band), Ratatat stretches the abilities of every instrument it has, piecing together a linear album that echoes the same overall sound throughout but never actually repeats or uses choruses.
Take highlight and first single “17 Years” as an example. Ratatat uses a prerecorded vocal clip to lead into heavy guitar solos and an equally heavy, handclap-like beat. But the song generally progresses in the direction of a well-performed concert, peaking from its first thrash and ending peacefully just as the audience throws out its last gasp of energy. The track itself is representative of the entire album: it progresses in the exact same manner.
Although Ratatat may not be able to christen itself “the next Beethoven(s),” Evan Mast and Mike Stroud have incredible chemistry and the genius to transcend genres like few others have done. Ratatat is likely to find its way onto a number of “Best Of” lists in 2004. And quite honestly, an album like this has been long overdue.