A smorgasbord of an album
TThe signs outside of Diesel say “Sold out,” and while it’s too soon before the show for the scalpers and the scabbed, there’s already a sense of anticipation in the air. The bouncers at the door are beefy and inside everything seems like a ’90s Vegas flick — well-lit alcohol behind the bar, metal-beaded curtains covering columns and doors, and guys in black suits and headsets walking around the stockroom downstairs. Amid all this dance club glory, I’m sitting in the basement with Ratatat, chatting with them after sound check about their newest arrival, LP3.
Since 2001, guitarist Mike Stroud and programmer/multi-instrumentalist Evan Mast have been collaborating on electronic instrumental rock project Ratatat. After a name change, a limited-run single released on Audio Dregs (the label run by E*Rock, Mast’s brother), and some tour dates with the likes of Interpol and Battles, they released their self-titled first album in spring 2004 on XL Recordings. Followed up with the release of Classics in 2006, an out-of-print remix mix tape featuring Buddha Monk and Brooklyn Zoo, and the more widely distributed Remixes, Vol. II in 2007, Ratatat carved themselves a comfortable niche from which to launch their latest album, LP3.
Recorded in the Catskill region of New York in just a few weeks, LP3 seems to be Ratatat’s realization of a lot of ideas and constructs first introduced in their self-titled release and Classics, but now a bit more fleshed out with a move toward more live instrumentation on the recording.
“It was kind of haphazard,” Mast admitted, “but it was definitely a good thing because if we were just making another record with the same guitar and keyboard, it would be pretty difficult to make it exciting.”
“We didn’t write any of the music before we got into the studio,” Stroud said, and in this way the process of making the album remained the same with Mast recording beats and the two layering instrumentals on top.
“The way we used to work, where it was broken up all the time, we’d make the first part of a song and be really excited about it, then the next time we would get together to record we would make the next section, and we might get excited about that part, but it might not totally work with the first part anymore,” Mast said. “This time was more like we’d just make a load of stuff at once ... and things would just kind of work together naturally because we were in the same mindset while we were doing it.”
That mindset becomes evident listening to the record. While LP3 offers a sort of sound smorgasbord as an album, individual songs remain cohesive in their intricacies. From the Spanish influences of “Mi Viejo” and Indian flavor of “Mumtaz Khan,” to the signature guitar slides and beats in “Mirando,” LP3 shows the band meshing what we knew they could do with a more interesting array of instrumentation that is integrated with skill and sensitivity throughout the album.
Despite fans’ desire for more video releases from the band, Ratatat considers the visual component to be more of a footnote in service of the music at the live show.
“It doesn’t hurt my feelings that people want visuals with it, it makes sense, but we think the songs kind of stand on their own,” Stroud said.
In this way, there is a distinct difference in the way Ratatat’s music is received live versus recorded. At Diesel, concertgoers are penetrated by the sound, most dancing and drinking and enjoying themselves. This seems appropriate enough, but it begs the question, removed from visuals and a crowd of 500 people, what is the best way to listen to Ratatat?
“It’s nice when people listen [to the album], whatever they’re doing. I think the best possible situation, though, is if you’re just sitting there totally focused on the music and you have a really nice sound system and you have it really loud ... that’s the optimal setting,” Mast said. “When we were recording, we were always listening at night, really late, in this house upstate, at the complete limit that the speakers could go to. And that’s the best I’ve ever heard those songs, they sound really good.”