Every few years, the powers that be combine their efforts in an attempt to push electronic music -- whatever segment of the market they think will sell, anyway -- into the mainstream. Let's trace the lineage of the past ten years: Chemical Brothers, The Prodigy, Crystal Method, Daft Punk, Propellerheads and so on. The trend of the last few years, indie rockers who give up the guitar for a synth (or simply put it on hold in-between tours), doesn't appear to be going away soon, as hot-new-thing Ratatat demonstrate.
The duo's music displays a newbie-ish naiveté that works for and against them. This isn't heavy-handed hardcore techno stuff; Ratatat stick very close to classic pop-song forms, providing choruses and verses and simply ignoring the fact that songs like this usually require lyrics to make their point. "El Pico" follows a sloppy downtempo groove, mixing Mariachi flavoring and IDM melodies with accordion to keep it interesting. "Crips" keeps the same tempo, but substitutes French synthpop/disco for the Latin influence. The group's resemblance to St. Etienne and Komeda (sans vocals, of course) becomes even more evident on "Bustelo", as Ratatat infuse bouncy polkafied calliopes with staccato guitars.
However, Ratatat's simplicity often comes at their music's expense. Their songs routinely beg for a spoken message, to the point where their originals sound like dub versions. Perhaps the whole no-vocals-where-vocals-are-clearly-needed trend is in its infancy, and maybe I'll get used to it in time, but these instrumentals drag on with very little interest or character, leaving relatively little reason to listen after the first few spins.