As with most instrumental music, there’s an impulse to allow Classics, the second album from Ratatat (programmer and multi-instrumentalist Mike Stroud and guitarist Evan Mast), to play as white noise. While there are intricacies to the structures of each song that reward active attention (“Loud Pipes,” for instance, begins with a minute long crescendo as the distortion from Mast’s memorable riff continues to accumulate, only to cut to a wonderfully minimalist B section of synthesized handclaps and vibraphone), what Classics does best is lay down a consistently low-key groove that never draws attention to itself but which sustains a real sense of momentum. The opening run of uptempo, IDM-leaning tracks from “Montanita” through “Wildcat”—which, in the album’s only real misstep, overuses a stock sample of a roar that will be familiar to anyone who lives near a sports team with an animal mascot—builds to the vaguely sleazy rhythm of “Loud Pipes” and the post-dance-punk stomp of “Kennedy” before the album slowly simmers down over its final stretch. While that momentum works in its favor, though, Classics nonetheless sounds as though it’s in search of some greater depth that has served many recent “indie” dance albums so well, like the sustained menace of The Knife’s Silent Shout or the exuberance of LCD Soundsystem. Laid back as it is, what Classics lacks is the force of purpose to overcome its target audience of hipster kids’ aversion to—or limited ability for—dancing. Which, however technically accomplished an album it may be, is a pretty significant problem for an ostensible dance record.
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