There is nothing wrong with music that offers simple diversion; music that is enthralling while it plays. But for a record to fully earn a place in someone’s life, it must have something that pulls at the listener and requires they constantly revisit it, whether it be boundless lyrical depth, sonic innovation, or countless other qualities. Ratatat’s newest, LP4, offers plenty of the surface pleasures mentioned above, but few of characteristics that actually stick with you and demand repeat plays. The Brooklyn duo, which has produced tracks for Kid Cudi and released two volumes of remixes featuring everybody from Notorious B.I.G. to Anti-pop Consortium to Young Buck, have for four albums now maintained the ability to craft very tasteful, very aesthetically-pleasing music. But their formula is so easy to recognize that what first appears to be impressive consistency soon begins to sound stifling. The tracks may always sound great, but they don’t often distinguish themselves from each other enough.
LP4 certainly has its share of worthwhile moments. “Drugs” boasts a massive guitar riff that intermittently rises above the synth washes to create memorable hook. Ratatat’s guitar playing, as a rule, is always technically proficient and their tone is always gorgeous, clean and bright. “Party With Children” offers further proof of their six string expertise, this time pairing it with tribal drums and harpsichord. That classical instrument also features prominently on “Alps” a track whose strutting beat and heavy bass line mark it as one of the ripest for a rap revisiting later in life. “Mahalo” features a lazy tempo and plucked ukulele which generate a tropical atmosphere while more of those trademark shimmering guitar lines provide the hook on this brief excursion. “Bare Feast” is another ethnographic side trip, this time by way of Eastern European Folk, of course augmented with flashy guitar peels. Boasting LP4’s best hook, “Bob Gandhi” is propelled by an ear-worm synth line bolstered by double time shakers. The song’s an example of one of this album’s, and this band’s greatest strengths: the combination of the synthetic and the organic. The juxtaposition of acoustic guitar strum and bongos with programmed beats and synthesizers works to great effect. The same can be said for “We Can’t Be Stopped,” which works nicely as a respite from the maximalist tracks that surround it. Piano and strings combine to create a subdued atmosphere that is broken only slightly by a beautiful guitar line.
One might feel they are going to the well too many times with this formula if they didn’t seem to produce such fun results. The instrumental-duo are masters of their chosen milieu. The problem however is that even after half a dozen listens most tracks don’t separate clearly from the whole - their hooks just don’t stick. Tracks like “Sunblocks”, which sticks to the formula of shuffling acoustic guitars and synth arpeggios, and “Mandy,” which is built on eight-bit blips and bleeps, are energetic as hell, catchy, and infectious while playing but hard to remember once they conclude.
That brings us to the question of whether or not it is enough for music to be simply pleasant? And of course it is, most music is simply that. Most of LP4 falls squarely in that category - music that is enjoyable and accessible while it swirls around you and then disappears, forgotten when the record stops spinning. And if you can give a record like this forty minutes of your time it certainly won’t be wasted just because you don’t feel compelled to replay it over and over again, that type of thing is much rarer than we think after all.