Album reviews


Album Of The Week: Ratboys – The Window

Our pick of the week's new releases is the exceptional new record from the twangy Chicago indie rockers

Emo and country share more common ground than you’d think. We’re not talking Good Charlotte in Stetsons, more Pinegrove’s rootsy angst or Modern Baseball’s Jake Ewold going full Townes Van Zandt with his Slaughter Beach, Dog project. It’s a stretch to call Chicago’s Ratboys either emo or country, but they sit happily in the same territory as Pinegrove, Slaughter Beach, Dog and Wednesday, bands that are as earthy as they are earnest. Raw emotion and bursts of noise sidle up to swaying lap steel, while Julia Steiner’s dulcet voice floats atop everything from 90s alt rock to rust-belt ballads.

"It's Alive!" by Ratboys (official video)

For their fourth official full-length (fifth if you include 2021’s collection of re-recorded early tracks), Ratboys left their home city and headed west, hooking up with in-demand producer and ex-Death Cab For Cutie guitarist Chris Walla. Walla has a knack for this kind of thing, producing records for Pinegrove, Nada Surf and Telekinesis. His influence clearly forces Ratboys a little further out of their comfort zone, resulting in a record that plays to their strengths while also expanding their horizons. It’s the band’s best and best-sounding album to date.

"The Window" by Ratboys (official video)

Ratboys showcase their range across the first three songs. The stomping alt rock choruses of the aptly titled ‘Making Noise For The Ones You Love’ open the record, giving way to rolling mid-tempo Americana on ‘Morning Zoo’ and the direct, abrasive fuzz of ‘Crossed That Line’. ‘Morning Zoo’ is an instant highlight, filled with yearning lines such as: “I killed my thoughts with a knife / then blow a kiss to the silence / how long does it take to find the peace that I wanted?”

"Black Earth, WI" by Ratboys (official video)

‘It’s Alive!’ ventures into the kind of fuzzy, hooky territory that The Beths and Charlie Bliss call home. The title track introduces a touch of drama to its sweeping Americana, the raw grief reflected in the desperate instrumentation. It’s a remarkable song that feels universal and painfully specific all at once.

Ratboys break with their own traditions in defiant style on the sprawling ‘Black Earth, WI’. Where their usual method is taut and direct, this is a rare exception where they seem to be following the song, letting it lead them off into long digressions and back. The loose, improvisational feel suits the band well and if any song on The Window deserves to be over eight minutes long, it’s this one. You can only imagine how great it’ll sound live.

Release date: 25 August 2023
Label: Topshelf Records
On tour: Nov 2023