There's something to be said of first impressions. They are: quick, intuitive, enabling of sometimes wild extrapolations beyond available information. We are: human and quick to judge. I am, at least. And so it was with my first listen to Ratatat's "LP4", track one, "Bilar".
It worried me. I thought its initial bass line overwrought, an almost thuggish posturing that I had hoped Ratatat had left behind. Synths blare noisily, drowning piquant details that dot the song. It nearly bored me, in fact. But then something amazing happened and realization broke over me like a wave. The bass fell away and a pleasant beat cropped up recalling, in my retrospective estimation, the bated richness of "LP3". This, in itself, would have been an interesting and acceptable direction for the song, but this beat, too, evaporates. In its place, a scintillating and soulful sound wells up, billowing in its potential, ending the song on an oddly tender note. I thought, this from the band who remixed Biggie's "Party and Bullshit"? What happened?
"Bilar" is nothing more than a synecdochic history of Ratatat's evolution. The track pays homage to the band's lineage; its beginning of rap influences with whispered hints of what was to come; its first steps, coming into its own with with "Classics"; its faltering but necessary transition in LP3, good, but wanting. It's all there. However, Bilar's graceful conclusion is something more, a prelude to what ended up being LP4's effortless breadth and depth. Hard to believe LP4's tracks were recorded in the same sessions as LP3's.
Layered on top of Ratatat's usual badassery--still present, still awesome-- is an incredible array of orchestration. Heavy use of strings, grand piano, harpsichord, and other sounds I can't even begin to identify permeate the album. Take "Bare Feast", a track introduced with a duo of Eastern strings (sitars?) and stomps before being accompanied by piano, harmonica (?), jaw harp, cuica, strings, and finally synths, all in a bafflingly cohesive way. A shifting undercurrent of organic sounds runs under each track, as well: doors slamming in "Neckbrace", bugs on a summer evening in "Sunblocks", wooden floors creaking like the deck of a stately ghost ship in "We Can't be Stopped".
With all these new sounds, it would be easy to imagine the album a cavalcade of noise, but here's the thing; it's never fatiguing. Every track is well-developed and orchestrated. Grounded in rhythm, any new direction a song takes is not only interesting but a logical progression, extending and altering its base theme. Though in a relentless search for new sounds, tracks--indeed, the album in its entirety--unfold at their own pace as in "Drugs", where a soft German voice and peaceful string ditty play for more than a minute before synths and bass shatter the reverie (perhaps a reminder to fans that the duo hasn't forgotten what they're made of). Interestingly enough, no one track stands out in LP4, leading me to this weird gestalt interpretation of the album, a consumately weird way to think of Ratatat.
One of the complaints I often hear about the band is that once you've heard one of their songs, you've heard them all. In these conversations "Wildcat" and "Loud Pipes" are mentioned, hands are waved. There's enthusiasm--everyone likes them--but there is an air of dismissiveness, an implicit "they're good, but..." In those first few bass thumps of Bilar, I heard this same sentiment. No more. Ratatat has grown immensely from their previous efforts. Don't let the first impression fool you. LP4 brings not just the boom, but the wow.