On the fifth studio album by the charming indie-rock band, Ratboys, called The Window, the band expand up on the ideas that they tinkered with on the preceding record, Happy Birthday, Ratboy, with a matured sound. The band chose to work with Chris Walla (Death Cab For Cutie, Snarls) on The Window and it would mark the first time they would record directly onto tape. Ratboys had first met Walla on a tour stop in Montreal, and he agreed to produce the album in 2021, while they sent voice memos of early demos of the songs that would end up on this record. Through the advice that Walla gave the band, Ratboys would record these songs in Walla’s Seattle studio that really jump off the speakers with veteran ease. The stylistic choices on The Window range from straight-forward indie rock, punk, grunge, to a more alt-country sound that fit well within the vocal range and capabilities of lead vocalist/guitarist Julia Steiner. The band appears to be gaining confidence at just the right moment in their trajectory, which makes it a fun time to be a fan of Ratboys.
The album opens up in thrilling fashion, as the static of a guitar amp being plugged in on the aptly titled “Making Noise for the Ones You Love,” paves the way for Marcus Nuccio’s steady hand on the drum kit, all before Steiner wails above the instrumental mix. Bassist Sean Neumann occasionally adds in some backing vocals to harmonize with Steiner, while David Sagan’s guitar playing remains as interesting and captivating as it’s ever been. The slow-build to the chorus of, “No, I don’t wanna talk about that / I’m not gonna pick my brain apart / I don’t wanna talk about that / I just gotta keep it to myself / No, I don’t wanna talk about that now,” is done well, and provides some insight on Steiner’s headspace.
The jangly, alt-country song of “Morning Zoo” follows the raucous opener, and keeps things moving in the right direction. The second verse of, “The morning zoo is alive / But, I just keep getting smaller / It’s my decision to lie / To settle down by the fire,” feature fairly simple lyrical wordplay, but the production by Walla makes for a captivating listening experience. The punk rock snarl of “Crossed That Line” comes up next in sequencing, and rocks on like a Yeah Yeah Yeahs song, paired with the charming vocal stylings of Steiner. The variety of musical styles that Ratboys show on The Window makes the album utterly thrilling, as much as it remains unpredictable in its artistic flow.
My personal favorite in the set, “It’s Alive!” features a breezy, dual-guitar riff from Steiner and Sagan while the rest of the band rallies around the picturesque atmosphere set forth from the tones. The bridge of, “So I pass the time, look to the side / I feel it all, frozen in my house / All around, it’s in the stars / It’s speeding toward the sign,” is incredibly well-delivered in its packaging, and offers a great moment for the band to connect with their audience in a live setting. It’s sure to be a staple in the concerts for years to come.
The Country twang of “No Way,” with its bragging chorus line of “There’s no way you’ll control me,” before tossing in a “ha, ha” after it comes off really well, and showcases an artist coming into their own, all paired with a natural swagger to them. “The Window” makes for a memorable title track, and really helps set the tone for the rest of the record. The picturesque opening lines of, “I walked across the green grass / To where I knew you laid / The way the sun was shining down / I only saw your shape,” paired with a casually strummed guitar are really top-notch material, and the way it bleeds into a shimmery, sunny chorus is really a marvel to hear unfold.
”Empty” opens up the back half of songs with some abrasive vocal chaos in the beginning of the song, before adding in a few additional instruments, like piano, into the mix to make for a memorable transition. “Break” features some a programmed beat in the opening bars of the song, before evaporating into the real percussion of Nuccio to embrace the mystery behind Steiner’s vocals. It really helps keep the song transitions feel punchy and pointed, all while moving the needle of Ratboys overall musical development. The band leaves their most ambitious song, “Black Earth, WI” towards the end of the set, and its thrilling eight and half minute runtime goes by effortlessly smooth. The band does an excellent job of adding in some classic rock elements too, with some extended guitar solos and a memorable closing lyric of, “Crushin’ the blades, great freight train / Make the wind go away / And if that mockingbird don’t sing / Watch her do the twist again / And if she’s twisted up too tight / Let the dawn cut through the night / And if that day do slowly break / Make your way down to the lake,” that reverberate off of the speakers and cut directly into the audience’s memory long after the song has finished.
The closing duo of “I Want You (Fall 2010)” and “Bad Reaction” close out this chapter in Ratboys musical development, that appears to be picking up the right type of positive momentum at just the right moment in time. The closer, in particular, is a powerful reminder of why I was so charmed by this artist in the first place: they tug on the heart-strings of indie rock fans everywhere, while Steiner’s vulnerable vocals remind us that she’s just as human as the rest of us. She just happens to write much better songs than the majority of the bands out there.