The Washington Post

Electronic Tonic: Ratatat

WHEN YOU FIRST wrap your ears around the electronica duo Ratatat, it might seem like the Brooklyn-based group’s biggest asset is that it has developed a new sound playing only instrumentals. But a bigger claim to fame might just be the fact that Ratatat is achieving fame itself. The band has generated buzz that has eluded other groups that forego vocals, and it now regularly sells out shows, like its September concert at the Fillmore Auditorium and Friday Black Cat gig.

The group conjured its synthfully haunting style in 2004, when guitarist Mike Stroud and keyboardist Evan Mast plugged into a laptop and started a career of furious overdubbage.

Since then, Ratatat has released a trio of acclaimed albums; toured with Bjork, Daft Punk and Interpol; done remixes, and had its music featured in movies and on NPR‘s “This American Life.”

“I didn’t expect it to be this popular,” admits Mast by phone while on the road. “But I knew we’d hit on something pretty interesting with the first record. It’s kind of wild because some of these shows have massive crowds, and people go pretty crazy for it. It’s pretty amazing to see that for instrumental music.”

The group’s third album, “LP3,” has given fans and critics reason to believe the hype. Recording in a genuine studio for the first time, Stroud and Mast skillfully balance the electronic and acoustic, adding harpsichord and zither-like tones to pulsating beats.

“It’s a broader sound,” Mast notes. “It’s got a lot more instrumentation. There’s more texture than on previous records because we had more instruments to use.”

On tour, the group beefs up its sound with keyboardist Jacob Morris. But trippy onstage visuals also underscore the musical score. A good example of this can be seen in the satirical mind-warping they gave Paul Simon‘s “You Can Call Me Al” video for their own reggae-tinged “Flynn.” It’s become a hit on YouTube and onstage — and is just the sort of thing that’s made believers out of casual listeners.

“We’ve done electronic tours and we’ve done rock tours,” Mast says. “It seems to work either way.”

» Black Cat, 1811 14th St. NW; with Panther and E*Rock, Thu., Oct. 2, 8 p.m., sold out; 800-551-7328. (U St.-Cardozo)

Written by Express contributor Tony Sclafani

Photos by James Kendi



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Stephen M. Deusner · October 1, 2008