Our Tyler Sanford says the latest from RJD2 finds success when it’s willing to experiment.
Duo Mike Stroud and Evan Mast are back after a long five-year hiatus, and instead of keeping with the sequence of LP3, LP4 and now 5–they’re calling it Magnifique. Though the sound is just as elaborate as the previous two, they’ve produced a more driven and resolved album this time. If the official “Intro” and “Outro” tracks aren’t any clue, look to its title track to hear proper composure and a progression into the beat rather than the eclectic onslaught that was LP3 and LP4.
As always, most tracks are guitar heavy and each ends with a radio scanning, vinyl scratching fade out. It adds to the pedal steel guitar’s quasi-retro feel, mostly felt in the stagger and sway of songs “Drift” and “Supreme.” They also introduced their first ever cover song using the pedal steel guitar. Springwater’s “I Will Return” sounds less grainy and Ratatat gives it a wholesome, renewed sound. These stand out tracks stray from Ratatat’s typical brazen beats. Mike Stroud’s finger placement on “Pricks of Brightness” is reminiscent of past popular guitar tracks “Loud Pipes” and “Desert Eagle,” but still comes out sounding fresh.
Mast’s beats build a platform for Stroud’s guitar riffs that sometimes swell at unorthodox moments. Some of the most striking guitar stretches materialize at the end of their songs but make for epic highlights. This is most evident in “Rome,” which begins with wonky riffs, then digs down for a slow-paced build up and explodes with lively shreds from Stroud’s guitar. There are no lyrics in this album though, that were sprinkled throughout previous albums. The closest we get to words are the voice scrambles sampled at the end of a few select tracks.
Magnifique goes back to Ratatat’s roots, as the tracks are not overly complex. It’s guitar and synth, Stroud and Mast. They’ve dropped the drastic tinkering and toying with layers and it has resulted in a blend of electronic and hearty guitar picking. Their old sounds fit under the umbrella of hip-hop, with heavy drumbeats, but not many of their new songs fit that description except for maybe “Cold Fingers.” Even that track has a major guitar shred, following the album’s rock tendencies. It’s a good project for Ratatat, maybe even a safe one, but they delivered solid compositions that provide for a robust fifth album. »
– Gina Pieracci