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Review: Ratatat, 'Magnifique'

album cover
album cover

So much of Ratatat's appeal lies in what it doesn't do: On the band's fifth album, Brooklynites Mike Stroud and Evan Mast built sleek, propulsive instrumentals using a spare palette of guitars, synthesizers and simple percussion in such a way that the music sounds both triumphant and understated. These are rock instrumentals that needn't overcompensate for their lack of words; they don't strain to be heard or scramble to stand out, but instead convey coolness that seems effortless.

What Magnifique — Ratatat's first album since the more experimental LP4 five summers ago — lacks in showy flamboyance or wholly surprising sounds, it possesses in breezy smoothness that proves versatile. The first single, "Cream On Chrome," has the most overt zippiness to it, but even it never works up a sweat or wastes a breath. When Ratatat kicks up a few '80s-style hard-rock guitar solos in "Pricks Of Brightness," they function as some of the most easygoing heroics you'll ever hear.

Elsewhere on Magnifique, the duo's instrumentals seem suited to accompany mixed drinks at a beachside restaurant: At several points in "Drift," Ratatat calms down enough to emit a noise that closely resembles a cat's purr, while "Supreme" sways softly such that it attracts a chirping bird. If Magnifique unfolds like a snappy summer movie, "I Will Return" is there at the end to burble euphorically over the closing credits, even going so far as to promise a sequel right in its title. Here's hoping so.

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Stephen Thompson
Stephen Thompson is a writer, editor and reviewer for NPR Music, where he speaks into any microphone that will have him and appears as a frequent panelist on All Songs Considered. Since 2010, Thompson has been a fixture on the NPR roundtable podcast Pop Culture Happy Hour, which he created and developed with NPR correspondent Linda Holmes. In 2008, he and Bob Boilen created the NPR Music video series Tiny Desk Concerts, in which musicians perform at Boilen's desk. (To be more specific, Thompson had the idea, which took seconds, while Boilen created the series, which took years. Thompson will insist upon equal billing until the day he dies.)