Album Review: “Magnifique” by Ratatat

Ratatat Magnifique

Released: July 17th, 2015
Reviewed by Erik Wermuth
Rating: 4/5

Brief disclaimer: ever since I first heard their self-titled album in 2007, Ratatat have been my favorite band, bar none. At that point I had heard electronic acts with something approaching Evan Mast and Mike Stroud’s ear for subtle build-up and original melodies, but never combined with the excitement that live instrumentation brings. Guitar and bass took the place of vocals and removed any distraction from the New York pair’s contribution to rock and electronic. More so than any review I could write, this one is from the perspective of a fanboy. I’ve done my best to temper my natural inclination to think that they can do no wrong, but nobody’s perfect (despite my instinct that, musically at least, these two are about as close as it gets).

With this in mind, it’s no surprise that back in 2011 when Ratatat announced they were beginning work on their fifth studio album, I was more than excited. News of an upcoming release would have been enough to send me skipping back and forth down my hallway with childish glee (not really), but every website announcing the album, tentatively referred to as LP5 after their last two albums LP3 and LP4, also included another nugget: the duo had secluded themselves in a beach house studio on Long Island to write and record.

With their unkempt hair, lack of vocals, and generally secretive attitude, they had always presented themselves as something like basement guitar gurus: cloistered monks of the electronic world. The news that they were holing up in a personal studio to work their obscure magic fit so perfectly with this narrative that I was utterly enthralled by imagining the process. As year after year passed and no further updates were forthcoming, the mystery only became more compelling. When at a certain point the wait for LP5 became something of a joke, like the endless wait for a new Duke Nukem and the internet even started to doubt its existence, I could only wait and picture a wide shot of the studio at night, with strange lights flashing through the windows and the cracks in the doors like a mystic laboratory.

When the news finally dropped that the album was coming, along with a name, its first single and the beginnings of a tour schedule, I went skipping back and forth down my hallway with childish glee (really). With such a huge 4 year buildup, nothing short of excellence would have sufficed and, for the most part, Magnifique delivers on that promise. The whole album bursts with the same energy that Ratatat have been bringing since 2004, and I absolutely can’t wait to see them live again with this album in the rotation.

Because of their flowing, instrumental style, I find that Ratatat is best listened to in terms of albums rather than individual songs, so I won’t give my usual track-by-track analysis. In Magnifique, Stroud and Mast confirmed their status as the modern American answers to Johann Sebastian Bach by perfecting a similar mathematical, theme-building style. In terms of their previous work, Magnifique sounds the most like their more standard first two albums Ratatat and Classics. However, some of the more involved production (particularly in the places where the album speeds up) evokes their more experimental LP3 and much of the slide-guitar work (particularly in the places where the album slows down) feels very much like the equally experimental LP4.

Most of all, Magnifique seems to be a combination of the lessons Stroud and Mast learned in making LP3/LP4 (the majority of which were recorded in the same studio session) and their more ‘standard’ sound present in Ratatat and Classics. To some, this kind of musical consolidation is the signal of a weaker effort, but this album feels more like a new apex and a necessary step than a simple rehashing of old ideas. The question of whether or not the duo have run out of creative juice after this effort is still up in the air, but considering the scope of Evan Mast’s many side projects (the sweet, downtempo e*vax and the exotic Abuela for instance), I find it hard to believe that’s possible. Nothing would make me happier than an experimental series LP6/LP7 followed by another consolidation of creative effort. We can only hope it takes less of a decade this time around.

In the end, if you’ve listened to Ratatat previously, Magnifique is only going to solidify your opinion of them, whatever that may be. If you’re new to the pair, the all-encompassing Magnifique just might be the perfect place to start. As a past, present, and future fan I give it a satisfied 4/5.

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DuckDuckGo: Because Your Privacy Matters on the Web

We recently stumbled across a search engine called DuckDuckGo. It’s a bit different than other search engines for one big reason: it doesn’t track you. Other search engines, including Google, pay close attention to the things you’re searching for and the places you go.

“I have nothing to hide”—you might be thinking. It’s not about having nothing to hide. It’s about privacy. That’s our freedom.

You can use “Bangs“ on DuckDuckGo to search terms directly within another website. They are stylized as an exclamation mark followed by the name of the website you want to search, followed by the keyword. Example: !zappos sandals.

And guess what, we made a Murfie Bang! So now you can search for Katy Perry albums without judgement (e.g. !Murfie Katy Perry).

Ready to try DuckDuckGo? Head over to their website and try out the search engine that doesn’t track you!


Metal Starter Pack

A recent study indicates what Metal fans have known all along: Listening to Metal makes you grow up to be awesome (you can read the details for yourself here: The Metalhead Kids Are All Right).

That being the case, here’s Murfie’s Metal Starter Pack to get you on the road to a happy and successful life (don’t worry if you’re getting started late, most of these musicians are likely older than your parents).

123048-largeBlack SabbathBlack Sabbath

Arguably where it all began, this album is essential classical listening for all headbangers.

AC/DCBack in Black

Black, the staple ingredient of any quality metal band.  AC/DC defined a generation of rock-leaning metal musicians and Back in Black captures their unique ability to be simultaneously condemned by the moral majority and still receive play at wedding receptions.

Iron MaidenNumber of the Beast

Where would the world of metal be without disturbing album art?  Probably on more record store shelves, but that’s not what matters to Eddie and company.

123530-largeMotorheadAce of Spades

Don’t bother reading the lyric sheet, just pound your fist on the dashboard and press the accelerator into the floorboards.

Mercyful FateMelissa/The Beginning (Disc 1 and Disc 2)

Mystical traditions often appear in the the lyrics of metal music.  Mercyful Fate, headed by King Diamond, took this atmosphere to the stage.

MetallicaKill ’em All

What more can you say, “metal” is their first name!  Kill ’em All marks the beginning of a new generation of shredders lifting metal out of its rock roots and elevating it into a new form.

37087-largeMegadethRust in Peace

A counterpoint to Metallica (although the two cross stylistic paths over time, and share an origin story), Rust in Peace shows that metal can be intellectual as well as completely bad-ass.

SlayerSeasons in the Abyss

Taking metal into the darkest recesses of the human experience (at least before 1990), Slayer takes metal to an all new low (which is a good thing).  See “Dead Skin Mask” for a nod to a historical Wisconsinite…

AnthraxSpreading the Disease

Inoculating metal traditions with a stiff shot of Thrash (and the occasional thoughtful reflection), Spreading the Disease keeps it metal while opening doors to future crossover acts and points to the then future (now past) of metal music.

By 1990, metal had fragmented into a wide assortment of hybrid genres which I encourage you to explore once you’ve studied the essentials.  When you’re ready to graduate to the next level, rescue a 1980’s Camaro from it’s cinder-block perch, install a pair of Craig speakers in the rear deck and pick up one of those cassette-deck adapters for your phone…

Jason Gullickson

Jason makes sure all the electrons flow in the right direction at Murfie. His dream job is to automate himself out of his dream job, then hire his automaton to execute the “master plan.” He enjoys 20% of all musical styles and 35% of metal, punk, electronic and classical.

Tribute to Chris Squire

Written by Erik Wermuth

Chris_squire_1978Habit forms the backbone of our lives. Great or small, fry cook or Nobel laureate, humanity’s collective life is lived in the deep grooves we’ve formed for ourselves through years of repetition. Some use habit to free their minds from mundane details and focus on greater things. Some let themselves be controlled by habit; they become addicted to drugs or hostile takeovers or Netflix. Very, very rarely a person comes along who makes a habit out of doing the brilliantly unexpected. A man who can avoid the pitfalls of vicious self-destruction and accomplish this with integrity and grace is rarer still. Chris Squire, bassist for the London prog-rock band Yes who succumbed to leukemia on June 27 this year, was such a man.

His road was not always illuminated, however. Like all of the greats, Squire began simply as a curious child. At the age of 16, he was suspended from school for having hippie-length hair and given cash to cover a haircut. The pragmatic Squire took the money and never returned, finding work at a local guitar shop where the early beginnings of his technical prowess were to be found. This marks a crisis point in the bassist’s life. With the enveloping oversight of school removed, he suddenly found himself responsible for the formation of what was essentially a new life. In those early few years he turned to drugs—specifically he started taking acid on a regular basis.

Friday nights at the UFO club became a constant trip through the weekends and left enough time to recover for work on Monday morning. As a class of drug, psychedelics are legendary for their ability to take our minds out of their well-worn streambeds of consciousness and give new perspective (which is the reason acid has been used so effectively in therapies designed to break a person of alcoholism). However, steady use tends to unbalance the mind—after all, even the purest creativity requires some underlying structure to give it sense and beauty. Squire’s breaking point came one night in 1967 when he, sick with the flu, dropped acid a friend had homemade.

For 3 days afterwards Squire stayed in the hospital, completely divorced from himself not recognizing the well-wishers that appeared by the foot of his bed. After recovering enough to successfully lie to police about his source for the drugs, he spent the next year or so holed up in his girlfriend’s apartment, still too anxious to leave. His mind had returned, but something was still fundamentally wrong.

At this point in the story, Squire is not all that different from the thousands of others who have emerged into the world and found something there that broke a piece of their foundation. For some reason, they left the force of their old habits behind and what they saw frightened them back into a hollow recreation of their old selves. But Squire did something different. Day in and day out in week after week for month after month, he played his bass. With a recovering mind and seemingly endless time on his hands he tinkered and experimented, often finding and toying with his limitations on an instrument that wasn’t even plugged in. Throughout that lost year, Chris Squire rebuilt his shattered mind with music and when he emerged in 1968 he did so with an idiomatic style strong enough to sustain and develop through an almost four decade career. Combined with his amp-junkie genius for crafting the perfect sound, the 1968 reemergence constituted one of the closest things there can be to true rock godhood. The early Seventies perception of prog-rock as ‘drug music’ takes on an interesting irony here—the backbone of Yes’ sound did arrive on the scene through drug use, but it was the aftereffects and subsequent abstinence of a bad trip and not the transcendence of a high that produced it.

To this day (and hopefully for long after it), Squire is revered—particularly by his fellow bassists. Primus frontman and bass titan Les Claypool says Squire “always had and still has the best bass tone. His parts and the way he sat in the mix were always really incredible to me”. Claypool goes on to say that in spite of a youthful obsession, he still can’t play the entirety of the bassline on the Yes classic “Roundabout”.  Squire’s instrumental skill and guitar-geek approach to his sound were a large part of what made Yes such a compelling brand of music. Their ability to retain entertainment value while taking advantage of every available complexity in equipment and arrangement is truly staggering. Of all Yes’ admittedly talented members, Squire, the only one to play on all of their albums to date, is most responsible for their sound and its attitude of pushing rock music to the furthest corners of the stage and the studio.

The world lost Chris Squire for a moment there in 1967, but the person that was left when he forgot himself pulled him back with its music. Almost 4 decades later his music is again most of what remains. But this time we’re unlikely to be getting him back, so do him and yourself a favor and go listen to Chris Squire and Yes. If you’re feeling generous find a copy with enough quality to really appreciate his legendary bass tones and Yes’ epic production: an old record, a CD, or a lossless download.

Album Review: “Déjà Vu” by Giorgio Moroder

Deja Vu

Déjà Vu
Released: June 16th, 2015
Reviewed by Erik Wermuth
Rating: 2/5

The art for the Italian producer Giorgio Moroder’s new album Déjà Vu is an absolutely brilliant piece of marketing. It features the shape of Moroder’s signature handlebar mustache under a pair of retro sunglasses against a blazing neon pink background. The image taken together with the title is a clear invitation to remember his heyday in the early Eighties when he was producing major disco hits and classic scores for films like Flashdance, Scarface, and Top Gun. The picture, with its segmented, stylized face and visor also subtly invokes the famous masks of Daft Punk, whose 2013 album Random Access Memories was largely responsible for Moroder’s return to the public eye after a 30-year hiatus from releasing original music under his own name. He donated his voice and story to their track “Giorgio by Moroder” which really exemplifies Daft Punk’s ability to inject raw human emotion into the cold technique of electronic music. The album cover for Déjà Vu (not to mention its title) invites the listener to recall this bygone era. When Déjà Vu came up on my queue I fully expected an affectionate throwback album in the recent tradition of bands like Kavinsky and Chromeo. Who better to play on nostalgia for a lost decade than one of the originators of its now-classic sound? For my money, “Take My Breath Away” from the Top Gun soundtrack (interestingly, the song in his career of which Giorgio has stated he is the most proud) is one of the most intensely Eighties songs I can think of.

There are bigger disappointments in life than great marketing for a sub-par product, but none that sting quite like it.

To be clear, I don’t think that Déjà Vu is a bad piece of technical work. At all. Throughout the album one thing that remains eminently clear is that Moroder is a seasoned professional. Something is definitely gained here listening in a higher quality. Every song (and I mean every song) is locked down tighter than Tom Cruise’s jeans in Top Gun. The sound pops fully and consistently also much like Tom Cruise’s jeans in Top Gun. Unlike the Top Gun jeans, which contributed in their full and consistent tightness (uncomfortably so, in places) to the undeniable humanity of the character, the result for Déjà Vu is not the humanity of an artist, but the cold, airless distance of an advertising professional. From the tired piano chord-progressions to the pandering of the wub-wub basslines to the attempted guitar throwbacks to that early electronic sound, the work as a whole fails to convey any emotion whatsoever. Track titles like “Don’t Let Go”, “Right Here, Right Now”, and “Back and Forth” should convey just how little creative thought went into this album. It’s form without substance. It’s disco without cocaine. It’s Daft Punk if it turned out that they weren’t human after all.

There are some moments where the insufferably boring zero-risk attitude gives way to something more honestly felt. Charli XCX delivers an emotional vocal performance on “Diamonds” despite unimaginative production and (never thought that I’d be caught dead saying this) Britney Spears stole the show with her feature on “Tom’s Diner”. Her massively electronically altered voice fit the simple, haunting backtrack remarkably well. The only real bright spot for Moroder himself was the track “74 is the New 24”. It features far-and-away the best songwriting in the album as it’s the only song to feature any kind of personal involvement from the artist. Moroder was 74 at the time of the album’s release and obviously struggling with the idea of being one of the godfathers of electronic music still contributing to the scene decades later—the combination of faultless production and thematic elements beyond the disco power trio of Sex/Dancing, Love/Heartbreak, and Money/Drugs make “74 is the New 24” a pleasurable and thought-provoking listen. An entire album of tracks like it would have been a rare treasure.

Simply put, Déjà Vu completely fails to deliver on the aesthetic promise of its title and cover. Instead of a vibrant tribute to the feel of a lost decade with the tools of the present, the listener is presented with song after song full of all the clichés of contemporary pop and none of its inventiveness. The result is static and stale and the only nostalgia I’m feeling is for a time before I heard most of these tracks. I give Déjà Vu a disappointed 2/5.