Magnifique has a distinct nostalgic core wrapped in an upbeat attitude.
Ratatat, the beats ‘n’ guitar instrumental duo of Evan Mast and Mike Stroud, have amassed themselves quite a body of work. Four studio albums, two remix records and a handful of collaborations between 2004 and 2010 is nothing short of impressive. Recently, however, they’ve been missed, with a five year gap between records. They took their time with the newly minted Magnifique, and avid fans can pine no more.
Magnifique is a nice addition to Ratatat’s extensive catalog. Mast and Stroud experimented with their tried and true songwriting formula by shifting from a beat-centric approach to working with melody and structure first, allowing the beats to more or less write themselves. They played with diverse sounds to create the album’s continuity through musical and noise-driven interludes featuring everything from a spinning tape reel to a white noise-spewing radio to a finger-tapping guitar lick. Magnifique has a distinct nostalgic core wrapped in an upbeat attitude, partnered with Ratatat’s signature electronic drum loops and wailing guitars. Best enjoyed driving on a summer day, or sitting on a beach, the album also serves as a prime backdrop for drying up a soggy mood.
These songs aren’t simply fun. They’re a joy to listen to. They’re cheerful and full of fervor. Magnifique is uplifting, stuffed with sugary glee, and it demands to be played in its entirety. There may not be a more satisfying listening experience this summer—the record seems to dig into your skull and burrow down to the pleasure centers of your brain. Who doesn’t want to shut their minds down, even for a little bit, and take some time to straight-up enjoy something?
Despite a fantastic experience, however, pure amusement can also be defined another way—as gossamer. Thin, light, airy and almost above reproach because there’s nothing much to say. There isn’t a song on Magnifique to dislike. There isn’t a point in which boredom or tedium set in. There also isn’t all that much to hang onto. Think about it this way: people often tend to shut their brains down for action movies or sitcoms or supermarket paperback novels. All of those things, for however long it takes to consume them, can be tremendous and hellacious fun. But that’s all. For the most part they offer nothing to challenge their form, or their audience, or their creators. While there is nothing on Earth wrong with that, in discussing Magnifique it needs to be said that despite the record being nearly an hour of exuberant joy, it is just that. And only that. It’s a musical beach read, a sonic summer blockbuster.
If Mast and Stroud’s goal was, in fact, pure enjoyment, they’ve succeeded in many ways. Based on their previous material, however, it is difficult to say that enjoyment was the only objective. Five years were spent trying to create something fresh, something that expands on the duo’s sound. Unfortunately, Magnifique feels as if it falls just short of the mark. But that quibble won’t stop me from telling you to go enjoy this record. Play “Abrasive,” “Nightclub Amnesia” and “Rome” as loud as your sound system will allow. Listen to the summery, island sounds of “Magnifique,” “Drift” and “Supreme.” Dance. Smile. Enjoy. That’s what Magnifique was, in part, made for. And that’s how it should be remembered.