Ratatat – LP3: Expansive and diverse sounds

In the past, I’ve taken issue with the tendency in some circles to lump Ratatat’s music in with that of the 8-bit crowd. I can understand the temptation, what with the band’s programmed, electronic beats, screaming guitars and ample keyboarding. But while their tones may sometimes sound similar to those produced by the Nintendo Entertainment System, their origins are much more organic.

So it surprised me to see that Ratatat appears to be overtly embracing the 8-bit sound while simultaneously diversifiying its non-electronic sound on its latest record, the straight-forwardly titled LP3. This record is a virtual homage to the keyboard. Indeed, the album cover features three of them. The effect is that just about any sound that can be produced by playing the keys finds its way onto this record somewhere. Indeed, one of the lead tracks, Mirando, mixes the bright and clean upper register of a grand piano with the laser beam-like sounds of an 8-bit system near its crescendo.

Don’t fret though, the duo haven’t thrown their guitars away. In fact, Ratatat seems to be well on their way to finding world peace and ultimate truth, the wailing guitar, Wyld Stallyns way. But even there, the stringed instruments shows some surprising variety. Again, the cacophonous Mirando mixes Ratatat’s thrashing riffs and slide guitars with the interjection of a banjo.

Other standout tracks include the disc’s opener, Shiller, which spends most of its time as a contemplative, baroque-style dirge before exploding into a high-flying spaced-out waltz. From there, LP3 hits overdrive with Falcon Jab further demonstrating the band’s new-found commitment to diversity. The guitars talk Peter Frampton style, the percussion is accented by shakers, and the keys of a harpsichord and baby grand trade expressions.

Mi Viejo has a distinct world-music flare, like a caravan moving up and down over the crests of sand dunes. Likewise, Mumtaz Khan shows a distinct Middle Eastern flavor, like what you might expect to find in a Turkish nightclub. Meanwhile Shempi, another highlight, is a wurlitzer-powered merry-go-round spinning through hyperspace. Gypsy Threat takes on the atmosphere of a Scooby Doo chase through an abandoned carnival.

Of the thirteen songs presented here, there’s only one that could arguably be referred to as a “typical” Ratatat song. With its mid-tempo beats and harpsichord melodies, Dura would almost feel at home as the backing track for one of Ratatat’s infamous remixes if it weren’t such a compelling track on its own.

With three albums under their belt, Ratatat has consistently shown themselves to be on the top of their game. But that game keeps expanding, with each successive album adding a new layers of complexity and textures to the band’s modus operandi. LP3 shows that whatever sights they set for themselves, they’ll reach them with gusto.


Note, the Amazon MP3 store offers a exclusive bonus track: Shempi [E*Rock Remix].


Mirando video:

Ratatat – Loud Pipes single: Another smooth creation

ratatat loud pipes

I don’t know how I missed it, but Ratatat quietly released Loud Pipes as the third single from Classics a couple months ago. The record is out on vinyl only and, in addition to the title track, it features three attractive and compelling b-sides:

  • Loud Pipes (Outtakes).
    Bears only the slightest resemblance to its namesake. The beat and instrumentation are there, but otherwise, it’s a whole other song.
  • Kennedy (e-rock remix).
    E-rock is Ratatater Evan Mast’s brother. He turns in a competent re-working of Kennedy (also from Classics). His version sounds a little repetitive, but it has got some big sound behind it. There’s also a nifty breakdown around the 5:20 mark.
  • Goose.
    New track. Rhymes with Noose, the b-side from Germany to Germany. The song is the least-stated in all of Ratatat’s repertoire. In stark contrast to the band’s enormous sound, Goose is barely there. A simple baroque-esque melody over a quiet, high BPM thud-thud-thud. At less than two minutes long, the song is over before it gets started.

All in all, another fine release from Ratatat. Now when can we expect that next album?

Loud Pipes: $7.00 from Turntable Lab

Listen to Loud Pipes (Outtakes):

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Stereolab: French Disco

From the single Jenny Ondioline (1993). Also appears on the Oscillons from the Anti-Sun box set (2005).

french disco at amazon french disco

For nearly a decade now, Stereolab has been a consistent “A list” band in my library, but I’ve, more of than not, been more disposed toward the groop’s laid-back, lounge-infused work. The band’s early, fuzz-laden krautrock-inspired recordings generally don’t strike me as much (though I do enjoy krautrock as a rule). While mid-career songs like Spacemoth, The Free Design and Miss Modular are compellingly splendid, crisp, head-bobbing grooves, the lo-fi droning simplicity of earlier songs like Anapromorph and Enivrez-Vous tend to grate at my ears.

As a result, I’ve tended to spend less time exploring the early stages of the groop’s development. However, this song, French Disco, and in particular, this version, is a hard diamond in the spacey milieu of the band’s early works. It breaks two of the band’s early conventions, and that makes it especially appealing. First, it’s uptempo and bombastic and completely unlike anything the band recorded in that era. Second, it rocks! And Stereolab doesn’t do rock; it’s not their thing. But if they wanted to, they’d obviously be good at it.

It’s too bad this version was stuffed as a b-side onto a single of which there were only a few thousand copies pressed. Overall, it’s a highly regarded song in the catalog and I’m sure many fans would have loved to have heard it before the 2005 box set was released.

I must admit some confusion over the song though. Variants of it appear with Disco spelled with a ‘K’ (French Disko). That version looks like it’s the ‘main version’ and it appeared as its own 7″ single i thinkÔÇôstereolab’s catalog can get pretty confusing as well as on the Refried Ectoplasm comp and runs about 3:35. This recording is about 4:26 and sounds like a different studio recording with extended outro.

Both recordings are good, but I prefer this one.

What I Love: Laetitia Sadier’s voice, the tempo, the haunted house intro organ and the explosive (but oh-so-brief) chorus.

Mogwai: 2 Rights Make 1 Wrong

From the album Rock Action (2001)

I can’t begin the to describe how awesome this song is, but it’s worth noting that it made me completely fall in love with Mogwai. Clocking in a 9-and-a-half minutes, this song is epic. Not for any story it tells, but for how it makes you feel. This mostly instrumental piece of slow-burning segments of increasingly complex layers of post-rockian composition ebbs and flows in hypnotic fashion. Upon crescendo, the song descends onto a melancholy banjo riff, repeated again and again, until the music fizzles out, leaving an intense feeling of profound inspiration.

This is one of those songs that for years has gone largely unnoticed, leading a quiet existence as pleasant background music, until one day it, when the slightest amount of extra attention is cast upon it, its brilliance explodes in your mind. From that day on, the song is never the same and neither are you.

What I Love: The descending bass lines; the extended banjo outro.

Nine Questions for The Polish Ambassador

the polish ambassador

Anyone who’s been around tunequest for a while surely knows of my fondness for The Polish Ambassador, the Earth’s greatest half man, half cyborg, all electro-groovin’ diplomat. Anyone who is new around here should get up to speed by reading my write-up of his debut album, Diplomatic Immunity.

After posting that review, I sent a list of questions to the Ambassador, inquiring about his species, his adventures, his artistic methods and, of course, his jumpsuit. Read his responses below and learn about this enigmatic officer of good will and intergalactic dancetasticsm.


Mr. Ambassador,

Are there other Polish Ambassadors bringing good will and electrogrooves to other planets, or are you the last of your species?

I choose the name “Polish Ambassador” merely so humans could better relate to me. My true name and profession exist in an ethereal sense that humans do not possess nor understand. There are many of my kind traversing throughout the far reaches of the galaxy.

Sometimes we pass each other on our cosmic voyages spreading good will throughout the universe. We’ll stop for a little while and say hello. It wouldn’t be uncommon for us to share a hot cup of mate, perhaps eat some toast covered in the finest organic mayonnaise, and reminisce about the old days and the aural orgies we shared at The Academy.

You’ve recently moved your consulate from Chicago to San Francisco. What diplomatic opportunities do you hope to uncover there?

One thing I didn’t expect coming to this planet is the havoc that the atmosphere would wreak on my delicate, boy-like skin. Most people don’t know this but I have severe psoriasis and the moist climate of the Bay Area was mandated by my dermatologist, Dr. Friezenberger. Plus, the hilly topography will only further the development of my robust quadriceps. Thusly, I will be better able to perform my diplomatic duties. “Soft skin and huge legs are what make a man,” is what my hermaphrodite wet nurse always said.

polish ambassador in times square

What’s the greatest diplomatic incident you’ve ever had to deal with? Did it bring you glory or shame?

Once, while rollerblading along the Pacific Coast Highway, I witnessed a rainbow trout named Mohammed and a coho salmon named Isaac arguing about who has been the most influential Canadian of all time. Mohammed argued it was Mike Myers and Isaac retorted that only a trout brainwashed by celebrity culture could believe such a thing and that Mark Messier was the greatest Canadian to have ever lived. I quelled this debate by letting them know that they were both wrong and that the correct answer is, “Who is Alex Trebek.”

They both immediately recognized that I was right, copulated at once, and began to produce a super-race of fish known today as Trebekian Troutmon.

Glory this brought to all. No doubt.

Where can all the kids get their own Polish Ambassador Jumpsuit?

You must collect 10,000 proofs of purchase from Cap’n Crunch Crunchberry cereals (part of a complete breakfast), send them into General Mills, and then in 6 to 8 months you’ll get your very own one-size-fits-all Ambassador gear. Easy, right?

Any chance of a fact finding mission with live show dates?

Yes. I will connect with Earth people at the end of this summer if the Orb of Fortune aligns with the blue diamond of Pestulan.

What kind of advanced technology goes into creating your jams?

Harnessing the infinite.

Does that bonus track at the end of Diplomatic Immunity have a name? If so, what is it?

Yes. Internet Electrocution.

Speaking of song names, there’s a little irony in that the titles to your purely instrumental songs have a certain lyrical quality. What goes into your naming process?

Where I’m from there is no such thing as free will. The names of these tunes have been ordained since the birth of time and are not up to me.

Tell me something cool about Poland.

Here’s a cool thing about Poland: It’s full of Poles. Sometimes you’ve just got to face facts. Polish folks are the ideal specimens of the human race.

They also have sublime dirt.


There, if this hasn’t sated your appetite for all things Polish Ambassador or it simply made you hungry for sausage, continue exploring the farthest reaches of diplomacy at polishambassador.com, his MySpace page or get Diplomatic Immunity at the iTunes Store.

If that’s not expedient enough for you, just check out The Lonely Perch and you’ll get a general lay of the land:


Ratatat in Atlanta: The ringing in my ears

The ringing in my ears serves as a reminder that I have permanently lost a portion of my hearing, but I’m telling you it is worth it. I just got home from Ratatat’s show in midtown Atlanta and I have something to admit to you:

Seeing Ratatat perform live is one of my favorite things in the world. This show marks the third time I’ve managed to catch a performance and each time has been simply mind-blowing.

ratatat in atlanta april 10 2007

In studio, Ratatat’s synthesized beats are phenomenally addictive and their guitar melodies rock oh so much. But live, man, there’s this power and richness of atmosphere that creates a unique kind of sonic ambrosia that’s rare in modern popular music.

If I had the means, I would totally follow them around on tour.

For a good explanation of the Ratatat sound (and better photos of the show), check ohmpark’s write-up. Though I hesitate to lump Ratatat in with the 8-bit sound crowd. In fact, I think the band could hardly be farther from it. 8-bit operators rely on the primitiveness of early game music as the source and inspiration for their sound, whereas Ratatat is clearly coming from a traditional rock background (whaling guitars!) spiced with a danceable groove and almost baroque composition style.


Ratatat will play a few more date in the U.S. and U.K. throughout April. Go see them if you can.

For a taste of the Ratatat live experience, check out this crappy cameraphone video clip I shot during Lex, one of the rockin’ist songs in the repertoire.

For a better experience, try this video of the band performing in Seattle in September 2006. The songs are El Pico and Wildcat:

Ratatat in 60 seconds

ratatat in 60 seconds

So I was itching for something to do this evening, and inspired by WFMU’s recent 10 Albums in 10 Minutes contest, I decided to cram the 45 minutes of Ratatat’s self-titled debut album into a 60 second playing time.

Here’s the result. It’s a pretty smooth overview:

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The Polish Ambassador – Diplomatic Immunity: Retro Electro Futurism

When I was in middle school, I became a big fan of the first few entries to the Mega Man series of games for the original Nintendo Entertainment System. Game play was straight-forward. The stories were fairly one-dimensional Mega Man good; all others bad, but exciting. And each level, named for an element or mineral (Bubble Man, Heat Man, Air Man, etc), proved to be a uniquely constructed world, incorporating imagery and themes related to the mini-bosses’ namesakes.

But the best part was the music, especially Mega Man 2 and 3. I enjoyed the music so much I put together a compilation of songs from the various levels by holding a cassette tape recorder next to the TV speakers and precisely pressing buttons on the controller at the same instant I pressed “record.” Despite being constrained to the NES’s primitive sound capabilities, the music from those games showed a compelling attention to rhythm, melody and harmony.

Which brings me to The Polish Ambassador, who simultaneously hails from both the farthest reaches of the known galaxy and Chicago. He is a musical envoy on a peaceful mission to evangelize his Polish heritage and electrify but not electrocute you with his powerful outer space grooves.

I’ve been keeping tabs on him since I stumbled across one of his songs at Last.fm several months ago. So when he asked me to review his recently released debut album, Diplomatic Immunity, I said that I would be thrilled to do so. And today, I got my very own cosmic Valentine’s Day present in the form of a compact disc.

Which is appropriate, because I *love* this record.

It rocks in a way that only multi-layered synthesized jams can. Much in the same way that working with a limited sonic palette forced early NES composers to rely create complex tonal patterns and melodies, The Ambassador bends the electronics to his diplomatic will, creating deep, engaging arrangements that belie the simplicity of its timbre.

The influence of early game music and culture is unmistakable here, from sounds themselves (Infiltrating the U.N. features a direct SFX sample) to the bit-mapped pixel art that adorns the disc and jewel case. These instrumental tunes could almost be the soundtrack to their own game, circa 1985.

I say almost because the passage of 20+ years means the The Ambassador is not restricted to the meager capabilities of an ancient game console. Where those compositions would end, Diplomatic Immunity takes off, adding fantastic beat after fantastic beat. This stuff is so groovy that each listen has the potential to kick-start the best damn dance party this side of Canopus.

Clocking in at 20 tracks running over 56 minutes, the record doesn’t disappoint on both substance and variety. And while there’s not a bad song in the lot, the real standout is Earth versus the World, which also happens to have a pretty nice video. Also, for pure dancetasticism, it doesn’t get better than the album’s finale, Crunching Numbers. You’ll swear you’re dancing in the middle of a laser battle.

Visit The Polish Ambassador’s website to learn more about his mission, his jumpsuit, his grooves (with samples), to download free bonus tracks or buy the CD, which is also available from the iTunes Store.

If clicking links isn’t your bag, you can check out the Earth versus the World video below.

It’s the Orpheus Express and we’re heading right down to Hades, ladies


One cold night, during the very cold December of 2000, I found myself at the original Handle Bar myspace warning in downtown Pensacola. Dilapidated doesn’t even begin to describe the place, but its rundown condition gave it the perfect character to be a favored destination for the town’s surprisingly robust hipster set, until it burned down in 2001. don’t worry, the handle bar was rebuilt in a new larger building in the same location that’s actually a much better music venue.

The venue was, and continues to be, an iconoclastic home to PBR drinkers and is one of the handful of places in town where independent, unsigned and local musicians can perform their music. On this particular winter’s night, I and a friend from high school (as well as some of her friends) were in attendance of this band who were touring in support of their debut album. Their name was Japanic, a strong enough band name, though I had never heard of them. That night, I wasn’t all that interested in live music, as I was enjoying a mellow hang out with friends. So I was a bit irked when the band started playing and my companions started moving away from the corner Gauntlet machine and toward the stage. Though, the performance space was so small that it was only a matter of steps from the arcade to the stage.

The band rocked pretty well, a quintet producing a kind of keyboard/synth-laden funk rock, like if The Breeders were new wave and danceable with perhaps a hint of Pink Floyd sprinkled into the delivery.

At one point during the set, while the band was breakin’ it down, Tex, the singer, hopped down from the stage and started dancing among the 20 or so gathered people. He also happened to be dancing right next to me. The beat was infectious, and so was the fun he seemed to be having. But I can’t dance, at all. So I upheld the dignity of us both by maintaining my “stoic music appreciation” headbob-and-stare.

All in all it was a very good show, but as is the case with so many upstart bands, I expected to never hear of them again. Thus, it came as quite a surprise that, a week later, I was riding with another friend and discovered Red Book, Japanic’s album, while flipping through the CDs in her car. She was bummed when told her that they’d been in town and she had missed the show, but she let me borrow the CD, a favor for which I am infinitely grateful.

After that, the rest is history. I never did hear anything more of Japanic. At this point, it’s incredibly hard to dig up info about the band, but Space City Rock’s Houston Band Graveyard tells me that the group broke up sometime in 2003, after releasing a second album titled Social Disease. i’ll have to track down a copy of that.

Still, these six years later, that short-lived band continues to fascinate me.


Presented for your enjoyment, Japanic’s signature tune: Orpheus Express, which sounds like the funnest damn trip to hell and back there ever was:

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Download a live version of Orpheus Express, found on Austin’s KVRX’s “Unlimited Bandwidth” Local Live Vol. 6.

Red Book at Amazon
The Social Disease at Amazon