Available on: XL LP
LP4 is Ratatat’s fourth album, and the duo’s first to be recorded with a full string section, at Glassworks Studios, Manhattan. It features a number of film samples, one from Werner Herzog’s Stroszek, the others all courtesy of Linda Manz, the child actress who achieved cult status on the back of her role in Terence Mallick’s Days of Heaven. Only one of these points really matters though, and that’s the one regarding the string section.
This is a record torn between a modern computer funk sound with links to the Hudson Mohawke brand of contemporary hip-hop, and archaic string, synth and guitar-led passages. Opener ‘Bilar’ works as a microcosm of the whole album, kicking into life after an extended intro with crunchy, robotic beats made to head nod to. It’s unspectacular, and it’s only when the strings and brass come in to balance this that ‘Bilar’ comes alive, climaxing on a string crescendo, its notes stretched out to euphoric proportions.
‘Drugs’ merges the archaic and electronic sides of LP4 to better effect; there’s a balance between the two, and no overall winner. There’s some nasty beatbox style percussion underneath the track’s surface towards the end though, and it’s a corny vocal experiment that Ratatat bring to the forefront of ‘Neckbrace’, ruining the track. The only time ‘Neckbrace’ works is when that subsides and the strings get a chance to soar, solo.
Next track ‘We Can’t Be Stopped’ is a miniature masterpiece, led by piano and swooning strings. It’s possibly the best song on here, and further evidence that LP4 is best when not dominated by pre-programmed drums, as the instruments can really stretch out. The sample at the end is the icing on the cake, with Manz sounding uncannily like CocoRosie.
‘Bob Ghandi’ is also led by traditional instruments and sounds good, despite being a bit reminiscent of Dragonforce. ‘Mandy’ features more mouth-made samples (they’re nowhere near as bad as those on ‘Neckbrace’), and sounds best when the strings and synths are allowed to take off and, well, wig out. You might be starting to detect a pattern here.
There’s far more good than there is bad on LP4 – and when the record’s at its best, it reaches heights rarely found elsewhere. ‘Mahalo’ lets the synth and strings of the album’s better tracks wilt in the tropics, while the percussion on ‘Party with Children’ is simple enough to be effective without distracting from the medieval synths that rightly dominate the track. ‘Sunblocks’ is another sunset epic in an album that specialises in them.
It’s hard to draw an overall conclusion with this album, which is testament to it. The last three tracks, ‘Bare Feast’, ‘Grape City’ and ‘Alps’ feel like they’re treading ground that the album has already worn down, but it’s hard to criticise Ratatat for that when they’ve arrived at a formula that’s so effective; taken individually, these tracks are stunning. ‘Neckbrace’ is truly bad, but it’s almost as if Ratatat learn from it: as LP4 goes on, they start to temper their percussion, keeping it electronic without it sounding jarring in comparison to the free-flying instruments. Not a perfect album then, but certainly one of the year’s most expansive, rich and frequently rewarding.