Well isn't this a coincidence. On my desk, amid press releases, a toy water gun and a Ziploc full of wasabi peas (with MSG) lies two separate items titled Ratatat. I couldn't have planned a story about name-sharing cultural talismans better.
First, I must emphasize that these two items came my way on separate days, from separate artists who might be unaware that the other exists (although it's doubtful, since they both probably travel in the Solipsistic Circuit of indie rock). But this isn't some sort of underground collective or anything.
They just seem to have both cosmically named their personal opuses after a drummer's onomatopoeia, and they're both pretty fucking cool. So, by extension, Ratatat is now the coolest onomatopoeia on the planet, usurping ba-da-bing, swish and tinkle.
The first is the New York musical project named Ratatat, and their self-titled debut album. I say "musical project" instead of "band" because this rock-electronica-hip-hop hybrid isn't a band in the traditional sense. It's a long-distance collaboration between multi-instrumentalist and programmer Evan Mast and Mike Stroud, a guitarist who plays with Ben Kweller and Dashboard Confessional.
Mast, who also plays in E*vax and runs the electronica label Audio Dregs, created beats and melodies, then gave 'em to Stroud to work on while he was touring with America's affable sweethearts.
The result is an album that's like Urb and SPIN throwing a joint Christmas party that works splendidly and everyone boogies down in harmony.
The other Ratatat is Rat-A-Tat-Tat Birds, a picture book for anyone who's spent more than a day at UCSD's Che Café or knows that major labels initially went gaga for Drive Like Jehu, not Rocket from the Crypt. It's a see-Dick-rock picture book for those who were in San Diego's underground alternative rock scene in the early '90s. Though being called "the next Seattle" back then was nauseating, there was a reason lazy hype-mongers were doing so-this was a pretty cool place for underground music.
And photographer Jason Winterberg was there, as a fly on the wall with a good camera, and as a guitarist for San Diego hardcore band Antioch Arrow. He seems to have somehow caught it all-along with major portions of other underground scenes where he lived, including Richmond, Va., Washington, D.C., and New York City.
It's 152 pages, spanning Winterberg's photos from 1991 to 2003, featuring lovely, unnerving shots of bands like Nation of Ulysses, Heroin and Clikitat Ikatowi at venues like The Casbah, Che Café and some random dude's basement.
Ratatat the band plays with dios and Dreaming of Tanks at the Casbah, 9:30 p.m. on Aug. 7. $10. 619-232-HELL. Rat-A-Tat-Tat Birds is available for purchase at www.volumeone.com/winterberg.