After a five year absence, Mike Stroud and Evan Master have returned as Ratatat for another album of synthesized rock instrumentals. Over the course of their career, Ratatat has carved out a distinctive brand of electronic-influenced post-rock, centered largely on the tone of their guitar distortions—a proprietary topcoat of feedback that sharpens the resonance while simultaneously adding heft. It makes for a driving sound, one that soars particularly high during the classic rock solos they love to inject in their songs. Pulling back from some of the more left-field leanings of their last release, Magnifique shows an increased focus on clarity and construction. There is a confidence that shines through, though the grounded nature of the tracks makes for a less thrilling listen than some of their earlier work.
The walking bassline of “Cream on Chrome” sets the pace for the summer strut at the heart of the project. They lock in on a funky groove and ride it deep in the pocket, content to let the music speak for itself, instead of burying it in layers flash as they might have done in the past. From there, they float straight into the gentle garden party of the title track, with its breezy guitars and "Chopsticks"-style keys. It is not until “Countach” that they call on the breakbeats that informed much of their earlier work. This restraint serves them less well on tracks like “Picks of Brightness” and “Nightclub Amnesia,” which are laid-back to the point of being underdeveloped. Somewhat surprisingly, the most successful songs on the album are those that veer most fully into traditional rock territory, like “Abrasive” and “Rome.” The familiarity of the form gives the those songs a scaffolding that keeps the ideas from floating away. The benefit of structure is also what makes Magnifique work best as album experience, rather than a collection of individual songs; any shapeless moments are grafted onto the studier elements in the listener’s memory, leading to a rewarding overall experience in spite of the lulls in the action.