Ratboys: The Window (Topshelf) - review | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Tuesday, March 5th, 2024  

Ratboys

The Window

Topshelf

Aug 25, 2023 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share


Julia Steiner is one of the best songwriters out there at the moment. Ratboys’ previous albums, including the Americana leaning G.N. and more impressionistic (in places) Printer’s Devil, already showcased Steiner’s songwriting prowess. But working with a dedicated outside producer, Chris Walla (Foxing, Death Cab for Cutie), for the first time brings Steiner’s and the band’s skills into crisper focus. Stack the country leanings of rightful G.N. fave “Elvis is in the Freezer” against The Window’s “Morning Zoo,” which is replete with strings, harmonies, and well timed breaks and it’s easy to see the great leap forward.

The Window includes the eight and a half minute beast that is “Black Earth, WI,” which also becomes lead guitarist’s Dave Sagan’s biggest showcase to date. The song starts with a hazy headed intro that’s of a piece with Beck’s “The Golden Age,” but evolves to a Crazy Horse-era Neil Young inspired solo while also picking up snippets of the folk lullaby, “Mockingbird.” Singular in its scope, “Black Earth, WI,” provides the ballast for 10 other more traditionally paced songs, but also a moment for the band to stretch out from the tighter than tight display of everything else on offer.

From the barn busting opener of “Making Noise for the Ones You Love” to the gentle fade out of the closing “Bad Reaction,” which reflectively and repeatedly asks “what’s the one thing you love?,” Steiner wears her heart on her sleeve. Particularly so on the lump in the throat title track, which surrounds her grandmother’s passing. The story in the song is filtered through her family’s telling of it to her but also sung from the perspective of her grandfather. In spite of Steiner’s multiple times removed recounting, lines like “I sit down at the table, and I fiddle with the phone,” speak to a knowingness of the early days of grief and a vast well of compassion.

As was the case on Printer’s Devil, the band lineup includes Sean Neumann on bass and Marcus Nuccio on drums. Fully engaged and at their most boisterous, “It’s Alive” echoes the blown out moment of Printer’s Devil’s “Alien with a Sleep Mask On.” But even more infectious is the four-minute head bobbing imperative of the glorious “Empty.” A celebratory jamming out by the full band about the feeling of being so spitting mad that the words hardly come. The song’s lyrics revolve around Steiner’s repeated “I have”’s as the band scales successive peaks over the track’s four-minute course.

With a generous near 50-minute run time, The Window could have easily closed (sorry) on “Black Earth, WI,” but the band gives us two more gently laid back gems before leaving us wanting for whatever comes next. “I Want You (Fall 2010)” looks back on Steiner and Sagan’s early days, while the previously referenced “Bad Reaction” fades out in a swell of strings and tight harmonies. There are no throwaway tracks on an album that hearkens back to the indie rock album heyday of the late ’80s and early ’90s. A time when bands endeavored to make sure that their releases were “all killer, no filler.” Ratboys care about delivering quality. From the upgraded sonics to the purity of each song’s message, The Window finds a band a dozen years in and still hitting their peak with each successive release. An utter joy. (www.ratboysband.com)

Author rating: 8.5/10

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Average reader rating: 8/10



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