Monday, February 26, 2024

Alt Rock Review: Ratboys - The Window

Score: 84/100 
Release Date: August 25, 2023
Genre: Alternative, Indie
Similar Artists: Big Thief, Sun Kil Moon, Kevin Morby, Big Thief

A low-key and low-fi dynamo, Chicago-based Ratboys have been making music since songwriters and guitarists Julia Steiner and Dave Sagan met at Notre Dame in the early 2010s. 

The band's standout album, Printer's Devil, in 2020, when the band expanded from a duet to a quartet, was this writer's first exposure and embodied an eclectic and otherwise ineffable sound that defied labels. All I knew was that I liked it, especially the heavy groove, Flaming Lips-channeled "Alien With a Sleep Mask On," and the relaxed, hooky, disaffected vibe of "I Go Out at Night."  

Earlier this year, an early release from The Window, a song called "Black Earth, WI," came onto my radar, and I became hooked. It is the type of slow bass groove that locks you in from the start. When Steiner's charming yet broken voice enters the fray, one can envision a bird flying into a windstorm, and you know you're in for a ride. There is no question that that bird will fight its way out, and that battle is scored by Sagan's soulful and blistering four-minute guitar solo. When the clouds pass, our faith is rewarded with the return of that sweet bird, the resolution of a conflict, and a most satisfactory conclusion. This song is a masterwork and the highlight of the album.  

If you're not into eight-minute masterworks, the rest of the songs, albeit shorter, are equally unpredictable and vary in sonic tone and theme while skillfully alternating between the sweet and the sour to create a sensation to the ears, not unlike a mouthful of Sour Patch Kids to the mouth. 

Opening The Window is "Making Noise for the Ones You Love." It's a screamer that, like other songs on The Window, such as "Break" and "No Way," are both soft and loud, making a Pixies influence difficult not to draw, albeit more of an even keel. It's Alive is the most accessible and sure to appeal to a broad audience. It is quintessential Ratboys and will hopefully draw listeners into the rest of the fine work on this album.  

Bad Reaction closes The Window in an impassioned and affected fashion. Here, Steiner draws on a formative experience coming out clean on the other side. 

Drove to the graveyard where you were not
Found a nice little hill with an empty plot
I threw the wheels in reverse so fast
Lost in the headache, didn't look back

The velvet hammer method in which Steiner delivers cutting phrases wrapped in soft tones only makes them more powerful and draws comparisons to Big Thief's Adrianne Lenker. 

Overall, The Window is wide open to the rest of the world. With the release of this exceptionally diverse and exhilarating album, no longer shall they be Chicago's best-kept indie-rock secret.  

- Tom Endyke | Guitar & Pen

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