(XL; 2006)

By Dom Sinacola | 30 November 2007

The name of this album is Classics, and while Ratatat’s already proven themselves a fun, benign potion of glam, garage, math rock, and dance stewed in mixing board plasma, the title’s too big for its britches. And the title’s too flagging to be unforgivable. Because if there’s one thing the band’s streamlined, it’s a formulaic testament to trope, cue after cue of award’s show montages. Classics can testify just like Ratatat(2004) did, and there’s no shirking of moral duty to melody, but the “growth” between the two albums leaves the sophomore effort a bit of a chore.

Oooh, look at me, the tired critic picking on the masterful studio wizards, the crafters of bone and jigsaw jams. Where do I get off chiding a duo so fecund and handy? Truth be told, I’m crazy about the album’s initial thrust. I’ve went weak in the knees when “Montanita” rose to its intro’s haunches, the bottom stepping out with a sharp withe of accordion, right up my midsection, starting at the groin. I’ve consented to visceral manipulation at the robot claws of “Lex’s” pregnant keytar beast; that song’s a godblessed colonic. I’ve even played mind games with “Gettysburg.” The song always came out on top because the tin shanty beats, steam cymbals, and chugging guitars promised Indiana more than hollowed Pennsylvania ground. Bowelless on account of track two, my insides quickly filled with smog and the despair of the Midwest. It was sad, but prosaically exciting, and the sonic refresher on the many facets of Ratatat was an engaging kickoff for Classics, which was looking to be a jittery little adventure.

Then comes “Wildcat,” a cut that surrounds sampled feral growls between retro electric giggles and slide synth guitar. The bytes are handled with some aplomb until, halfway in, the bassier riff mimics its woodland savior. Too late, the duo sounds softened, on display like dumbly overconfident prey. The self-titled debut’s boyish charm has matured and refined, the equation unfolds: Ratatat’s at the mercy of obligation, their explanatory track titles holding more weight than their track structures. Subdued, meditative bridges, when guitars and pickpocket beats sleep, when extraneous instruments stop drawing attention to themselves, are a keen way to build tension between kickass boners of power chords, but does there really have to be handclaps in four songs? Seriously. Three or four songs utilize that primal slap of the skin, to inorganic ends, and if it’s irresponsible of me to not know the exact statistics, it’s because I was distracted by “Nostrand’s” jolting “wahoo” conclusion. The thing’s in neon, a meticulous outbreak of herpes keyboards and crash cymbals amid an otherwise plodding last couple tunes. It’s infectious and was probably a lot of fun to make, but it’s also beat red. And if your mom caught you…

Classics’ gifts are in small doses. “Kennedy’s” impeccably picked bass ditty. “Tropicana’s” serrated strings and thunderclomps. “Loud Pipes” making plumbing seem funky again. Like it used to be. Most of the songs on Classics run the gamut from pretty decent to fantastic, but as a whole the record flattens and, before “Tacobel Canon” even tramps through over-processed Victorian sewage, blinks out. Even most of the instrumental choice (organs, xylophones, panthers) is surprising -- like this review probably isn’t -- but guitarist Mike Stroud and producer Evan Mast reveal their hands too easily, diluting the album’s glue. And if the whole starts to crack apart, at least the pieces are fly, nuggets of quality when quantity is job one.