Wed Sept 24
Triumph and drama are two of my absolute favorite devices in music, especially when they're at their most mountainous extremes. While I'm not embarrassed about anything I like, sometimes triumph and drama manifest themselves in what some would consider cheesy pleasures--YesÉ JourneyÉ "I Hope I Get It," from A Chorus Line. Music with epic solos and unashamed grandiosity, as if to signify its purveyors' glorious, phoenix-like ascension from the sea in a blaze of flames. Stuff that makes you throw up your fist.
Ratatat, a duo from New York, navigates the junction of triumph and drama, magically synching rock guitar lines with pretty, clacky hiphop beats and mysterious electronic modulations. Moreover, they navigate the junction between formalism and modernism, to make music that's delightful and unexpected. Their guitar solos--performed by ex-Dashboard Confessional/Ben Kweller guitarist Mike Stroud--are familiar, the imprints of classical guitar work that set the tone for years of epic metal. Their handclap-vs.-hiphop beats and sounds--crafted by Evan Mast, aka E*Vax--are interpretive, subtle, and serene in the way modern electronic pop demands. It's epic, grandiose, like the simultaneous vertigo and introspection you get from staring into a canyon. AKA: Triumph and Drama.
However, while they do inspire total exhilaration, there's nothing cheesy about the music of Ratatat. While I think they are definitely riding the triumph and drama party train, there's an attention to craft that transcends irony (and also transcends the ironic, quasi-non-ironic embracement of positivity/happy shit).
For instance, on "17 Years," either a synth or a guitar with a weird effect on it plays a kind of harmonic, baroque melody, over literally industrial beats. As the sounds layer and the drama increases, Stroud comes in with some fresh solo action, going through all the motions rock guitar formalists love--slides, string-bending, mega testosterone-tastic trills at the highest part of the fret. However, in context, it sounds totally fresh, breathing new life into the idea of the cheesy/rad solo and satisfying T&D freaks with its maximum triumphant emotion.