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October in singles: lad-rock veterans, zingy pop tarts, local upstarts


Another month, another instalment of my singles round-up for The Skinny

If this was the mid-90s and Oasis were in their pomp, The Shock of the Lightning (**, Out Now) would be an album track at best, and certainly not the lead single from a new album. But that says more about what Oasis have become than it does about the track, which tries to hide daft lyrics (“love is a litany, a magical mystery”) behind Noel’s bludgeoning guitar barrage. At least Arctic Monkeys’ Alex Turner knows when people are getting tired of the same-old. The Last Shadow Puppets, his side-project with the Rascals’ Miles Kane, attempts to recapture the lush orchestral pop of the 1960s with some success, yet My Mistakes Were Made For You (**, 20 Oct) is still strangely underwhelming. Another band with an eye on the past are Attic Lights. Wendy (***, 6 Oct) is further proof of these Glaswegians’ harmony-heavy talents, but it doesn’t quite hit the dreamy heights of July single of the month Bring You Down.

Following in Noel and Alex’s footsteps before them, the Ting Tings can lay claim to being the most hyped band of the year, but will they sustain the adoration of the mainstream with this fourth single? Well, probably, and it doesn’t matter that Be The One (***, 13 Oct) is nothing like as brainlessly infectious as their preceeding efforts. It’s easy to see why Fight Like Apes are currently supporting the Ting Tings on their sold-out UK tour, because Jake Summers (**, 20 Oct) is just the kind of disposable, sugar-rich indie-pop that their audeince digs with a JCB. CSS were sorta like the Ting Tings of 2007: their dumb-but-fun electro-pop injected a shot of colour into our cloudy British summer. But judging by the frankly rubbish Move (*, 13 Oct) it looks like Brazil’s best musical export since Os Mutantes have misplaced their former charm.

You can’t beat a good song title, and Brave Bulging Buoyant Clairvoyants (****, 13 Oct) is a classic. It’s a pleasure to hear the singer of the band responsible, Wild Beasts, strain his falsetto around this tongue-twister, so who cares what it means? Edinburgh’s Kid Canaveral meanwhile prefer to focus their energies on crafting old-fashioned indie-rock. Second Time Around (***, 27 Oct) keeps it simple, down to the chugging beat, ragged riff and chorus of (something like) bah-bada-bah-bah-badaaa-bah-bah-bada-bah. Ace.

In the history of unlikely cover versions, Tricky taking on Kylie Minogue is up there with Johnny Cash doing Nine Inch Nails. Slow (***, 13 Oct) isn’t as disastrous as you might imagine, with the Knowle West Boy’s custom growl adding a layer of menace to the Minogue gloss. Staying urban for a second, we turn our attention to hyped Chicago hip hop duo The Cool Kids. Mikey Rocks (****, 20 Oct) is a good snapshot of their crystal-clear beats and inventive rhyming.

One of the best things about sifting through a pile of circular plastic every month is when you come across a sublime little tune from a relative unknown. Moscow State Circus (****, 27 Oct) by young Liverpudlian Eugene McGuinness is one such tune, packed full of haunting Midlake-style chord shifts and priceless lines like “I’m as subtle and as playful as a hammer-headed shark.”

Lastly Dananananaykroyd, Glasgow’s best syllable-heavy thrash-pop act, who can already retire happy having met Bill Murray on a plane recently, and also finally winning the coveted Dirty Dozen single of the month. Pink Sabbath (****, 6 Oct) is a full frontal assault of sinew-stretching shouts and finger-bleeding guitars. Oh, and B-side Chrome Rainbow might just be even better.

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Interview: Ratatat

Stroud (left) and Mast

Ratatat may still be a lesser-known name on this side of the Atlantic, but it’s a name you’re unlikely to forget after a first introduction. That introduction may have arrived via a whimsical purchase of their 2004 self-titled debut, or 2006’s superior follow-up Classics, or their warm-up show for CSS at last year’s Triptych. Perhaps this is your introduction, as they’re set to release LP3 (that’ll be their third album then). Wherever your starting point though, it’s difficult to harness exactly what it is that makes their music so infectious. Their distinctive blend of pumping electro, multi-layered slide guitar and programmed beats defies genre-fication, but I asked Evan Mast, the producer/synth half of the Brooklyn band, to define it anyway. Predictably, all he gave me was this: “We don’t define it. We just make the music that we want to hear.”

Despite the perceived reticence, Mast is brimming with pride over LP3 – which expands the Ratatat formula yet further with more textured beats, more stylistic pilfering, a harpsichord here, a mellotron there – as he recalls its creation: “The process of making the record was such a great experience. We were in this big house full of instruments for 40 days and 40 nights just making tons of music, discovering so many new sounds and exploring so many different ideas. We’d make songs all day and then cook these amazing dinners and drink some beer and listen to the tracks at night. All the songs are attached to good memories, so it makes me happy to listen to them.”

Despite often being tagged as an electronic act, Mast and his Ratatat partner Mike Stroud are first and foremost instrumental musicians, and parts of LP3 come across like some post-modern rock concerto. It’s tempting to surmise the kind of classical education that fellow New Yorkers like Vampire Weekend have been touting, but Mast reveals that his teaching wasn’t quite so: “I took guitar lessons for about two years when I was around 11 or 12. My teacher was an old blues guitarist by the name of Robert Reese. He was a big guy with greasy Jerri Curled hair and his day job was working at the Ford car factory. He played a big hollow-bodied guitar and he mainly taught me how to improvise blues stuff. Occasionally I read up on music theory but I don’t have much patience for it.”

Mast doesn’t have much patience for lyrics either. The only words on Ratatat’s first album came in the fleeting form of rap samples [both Mast and Stroud are big hip hop fans, as you can hear on their two official mixtapes, available as free downloads from their website]. On Classics the verbal input was reduced to a cat’s howl on ‘Wildcat’, and LP3 is entirely instrumental. “I don’t have much of a voice and I find that words are often a very clumsy medium for communication. I don’t think I was ever really happy with the music I was making until I realized that I could do it without words.”

Ratatat playing at Summercase in 2007, photographed by meHaving witnessed Ratatat live once so far, I can guarantee that nothing you hear on record will prepare you for just how good they are live. Stroud is a wickedly talented guitarist, and partial to shameless Hendrix-style showboating; Mast grooves away on bass, while extra member Jacob Morris on keyboards pulls focus by headbanging a truly astounding afro. Do people often react with surprise to Ratatat shows? “We get all kinds of reactions when we play live but yes, some people seem to expect us to just do a DJ set or something like that. We just try to keep ourselves entertained and hope the audience will follow suit.”

With an opening night set at The Edge Festival on the horizon, I tell Mast that the venue, Cabaret Voltaire, is a small, sweaty, subterranean club.

“Sounds perfect,” he says.

A version of this article appears in this month’s Skinny.

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