Ratboys’ upcoming fifth album is the Chicago band’s most cohesive and complete album to date. It’s light and airy, with folk influences and buzzing instrumentation. But the real draw is the band’s ability to make music a physical experience through songwriting.
Out on Aug. 25 via Topshelf Records, The Window displays Ratboys at its absolute best, featuring the same energy they’ve had on past records, but homing in on an Americana drive.
Produced by Chris Walla of Death Cab for Cutie, The Window allowed room for the band to experiment with its sound and pull from their most personal musical endeavors. It’s “Midwestern indie rock with a subtle Americana twist,” as noted by Dan Ozzi in the album’s bio.
Walla’s work on the album introduced the use of more instrumentation with rototoms, talk boxes and fiddles. But it doesn’t stray too far from Ratboys’ musical style—it helps make the band feel more connected.
The Window sees Ratboys at its most vulnerable, with the writing being a collaborative effort among the whole band—which is something members haven’t done before. Much of the songwriting comes from frontwoman Julia Steiner, but everyone was brought into the process early on. Now full-time members Marcus Nuccio on drums and Sean Neumann on bass join Steiner and guitarist Dave Sagan.
It’s Steiner’s most inward-looking take on songwriting, with a recurring theme of windows making a metaphorical and literal appearance on multiple songs.
The Window is a raw reflection of love and grief through light-hearted humor. The Ratboys have come to a place as musicians where their music speaks for itself—every ounce of emotion is felt through Steiner’s vocals and the vibrations of instruments.
In 2020, Steiner’s grandmother passed away—but during the time before her passing, visitors were not allowed in her nursing home room. Her grandfather was forced to say goodbye through an open window, and much of the lyrics on the album are direct quotes from things he said to her in those moments.
It has been almost four months since my grandfather, pop, who I was very close to, passed away. I was lucky to not have to say goodbye through a window; I got to hold his hand until the end. This album serves as a sort of catharsis for me. Grief is often searching for something to physically hold onto, and while music cannot be held, it can be felt so deeply that it almost feels real. Listening to this album, I find myself looking through my own metaphorical window, trying to find my pop in the stained-glass reflection.
Albums like The Window serve as a form of expression for the ones writing it, but it also allows listeners to have something to hold onto, when they can no longer hold onto the ones they love.
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
In songs like Bad Reaction, I can find my own meaning in the shared experience of grief and longing. If you are a music fan who keenly listens to lyrics, The Window is an audio form of poetry. And it’s sonically soothing and dynamic.
Songs like Black Earth, WI remind me of instrumental interludes from bands like Dr. Dog. They float through the air with an Americana ease.
Ten years as a band, and for the first time with a full-time lineup, Ratboys are at a place musically that it was always meant to be. The Window is an emotionally satisfying collection of music that listeners might walk away from with a sense of gratitude for the life they lead.
Ratboys are set to play an album release show for The Window in Chicago on Aug. 25 at Schubas Tavern and hit the road for a fall U.S. headline tour in September.
Kendall Polidori is The Rockhound, Luckbox‘s resident rock music critic. Follow her reviews on Instagram and Twitter. @rockhoundlb