It’s been a minute, five years to be exact, since Ratatat’s last album, 2010’s innovatively titled LP4. By any measure of contemporary music, that is considered a while to be on hiatus. Only a few artists have pulled off a successful comeback, and I’m not talking about Jay-Z’s comeback either (which wasn’t successful regardless of how much you loved “Show Me What You Got”). I’m talking David Bowie, Bjork, or even Cher! Brooklyn based indie-electro duo Ratatat are back off of hiatus and instead of music video with Danica Patrick they’ve brought the world their (relatively) originally titled 5th album, Magnifique. The underground scene has a propensity to enjoy something for a good bit then set it aside until something else comes along, only to pick it back up once its considered “new” again. There are no comebacks. Well, Ratatat is now that “new,” but how new is it? Five years is a long time to let something fester and evolve, but honestly, by the sounds included on Magnifique, don’t call it a comeback.
The alt rock & electronica fusion of Ratatat, comprised of Evan Mast and Mike Stroud, isn’t so much electronic anymore. Scrap the afro beat; keep the slide guitar; soften the synths, and keep the slide guitar again, and you now have an idea of Magnifique. That isn’t trying to undermine the spirit of the album, however. The approach the duo have on their latest work is interesting to say the least. Their’s a certain nostalgia imbued in hearing something a little different from the group that most 8th graders thought were the greatest thing since Led Zeppelin, while still being able to appreciate that distinctive Ratatat sound. If you anticipated an LP5 that’ll make you want to roll down the windows and turn up the bass a little, don’t think any further, because you won’t get that.
What is different is the tone of the album. The melancholic vibe has been suspended immediately as you enter on the first track “Intro,” featuring a playful piano reminiscent of a harpsichord, light minor chords and the smooth iconic tinge of electric guitars harmonizing some riff to fill the gaps. It feels like Ratatat, except happier. This idea resonates everywhere in the album, sprinkled around steady garage drum styles and of course complete lack of vocals. The most feel-good track is indeed “Abrasive,” which resurrects a motive behind what I feel comes from their first self-titled album, spouted out into 2015 like a freshly drawn cartoon, which was visualized in the video for the track. It’s lovely. “Drift” reminds me of a lackadaisical summer afternoon, or an early episode of Spongebob; either being a pleasant image. I could go on but there’s a subtly in their musicality that can’t really be put into words.
To sum up what has been covered, the album is a solid listen, still sounds like Ratatat, a little lighter in mood, and maybe even a little silly. What brings the album home? What ties it all together? To answer the rhetorical question, the title track “Magnifique” is, simply put, a stroke of genius. Wonderfully placed as the title track, and captivating in vibe. I understood what the album was about by the time this came in the selection, which makes sense why they put it in there early. Unfortunately, my understanding of the album made the tracks fairly predictable, saying nothing of the formula in song structure Ratatat seems to allow themselves to follow in each album they put out. I admire how they strayed a little, and maybe it was enough, but they sacrificed in grit that which made songs from previous albums so strong. The experimental aspect has always been what kept Ratatat afloat, but it seems like that ship has sailed. Perhaps in the grand scheme this album will be a nice deviation amongst the discography, but for now it’s just another middling album from a formerly youthful sounding group to be added to the “decentness” pile of 2015 releases.