Ratboys is the vehicle for singer/guitarist Julia Steiner and guitarist Dave Sagan. The band hail from Chicago and began life in 2009. In 2011 they released the Ratboy EP, and in June 2015, they released their debut studio album, AOID. Their new album, GN (an abbreviation of ‘goodnight’) is released on 30th June on Topshelf Records.
Ratboys’ music is charming, instantly familiar, indie folk, alt pop, post-country songs that err towards a down-to-earth, uncomplicated simplicity. Just what is needed in these times of austerity, gloom and chaos.
On GN, I’m hearing echoes of Kim Deal, The Breeders, and the country-edged Sheryl Crow. Ratboys manage to effortless capture a little piece of a hazy summer daze in their understated, feel good guitar-led pop songs.
The songs on GN “largely detail experiences of saying goodbye, finding your way home, and then figuring out what the hell to do once you’re back,” says Steiner.
The album’s lead single, “Control” sounds instantly familiar, like I loved this band for years. I find myself humming along, foot-tapping, head-bobbing to an infectious tune.
GN offers a box of tales, laments and triumphs, which recount near-tragedies by the train tracks, crippling episodes of loneliness, remembrances of a deceased family pet with freezer burn, and on and on. The songs shift and breathe as worlds all their own, tied together by the group’s self-proclaimed ‘post-country’ sound, which combines moments of distortion and a DIY aesthetic with a devotion to simple songwriting and ties to the Americana sounds of years past.
The songs chosen to close both sides of the record – the slow-burning “Crying About the Planets’” and quizzical “Peter the Wild Boy” – unpack the respective journeys of two real people who were quite literally lost and found. “”Crying” tells the survival story of Antarctic explorer Douglas Mawson from a first-person perspective, and “Peter” reflects on the life of a feral child in Germany who was eventually adopted by the King of England,” according to Steiner.
Certain personal stories – the tour adventures recapped in “GM,” the struggle to learn to show affection as divulged in “Molly” – find Ratboys just as eagerly exploring subject matter that comes from within, and then illustrating the highs and lows with soaring hooks and plaintive ones. Even in the moments that lie somewhere between bliss and misery, a tension persists between Steiner’s sweet vocal delivery and Sagan’s physical, almost-off-the-hinges guitar playing that lends each song a deeper sense of colour and movement.
Come December, I will confidently predict that GN will appear on every well respected ‘best albums of 2017’ list.
Ratboys – GN Track List:
Elvis is in the Freezer
Crying About the Planets
Peter the Wild Boy
Ratboys new album, GN is released on 30th June via Topshelf Records on vinyl, CD, cassette and digital download.