Something about the start of fall calls for music made in the midwest. The angst inherent to chilly mornings and dwindling hours of daylight feels perfectly represented by classic midwest bands like or Slow Pulp. Ratboys, based out of Chicago, carry on this legacy with their latest album The Window, which was released in August of this year and is one of the newest additions to the KALX music library. This forty-seven minute work with songs about breakups, unrequited love, and confessing feelings to a best friend perfectly captures the mood of what can feel like the most bleak season.
The Window marks Ratboy’s fifth album. Musically, it ranges from straightforward indie rock anthems to country-infused ballads. What feels most impressive about this body of work is that each song feels unique in style and tone while the album itself feels cohesive. This range is immediately evident when juxtaposing the first two tracks on The Window. “Making Noise for the Ones You Love” is a guitar-driven rock track about trying (and failing) to get over an ex. The second track, “Morning Zoo” is pure country. Singer Julia Steiner trades her usual emo-infused voice for a more country twang. While these two songs are stylistically quite different, they convey similar themes. On “Making Noise” Steiner proclaims, “I turn up my favorite songs, wishing I could call you up, but I’m not gonna think about that now.” On “Morning Zoo” she asks, “how long does it take to find the peace that I want? And how long must I wait to decide that it’s over?” Both songs process feelings of loss and struggling to move forward without feeling repetitive or over done.
While Ratboys deal with heavy themes on this album, they have lighter tracks as well. The fourth and fifth songs on the album “Crossed that Line” and “It’s Alive!” are both tongue-in-cheek power pop songs that would fit in with the likes of Olivia Rodrigo. They bring a much-needed levity. Musically, they differ from the other songs because they are much shorter in length, coming in at two minutes and three minutes and thirty seconds, respectively. Much of the forty-seven minutes of The Window is taken by complex bridges and epic guitar solos. While these aspects are impressive and interesting, the power-pop tracks are refreshing because they are constructed so differently from the rest of the album. They don’t feel out of place, however, because they still convey the trademark angst seen across every song.
Over the past decade Ratboys have perfected their sound, and every track on this album feels polished and tight. For many, the joy of music, especially indie rock, is its messiness. This means albums like The Window can run the risk of feeling contrived. However, any concerns about the band’s inauthenticity are washed away when listening to Steiner’s earnest voice and vulnerable lyrics. This comes through the most strongly on “I Want You (Fall 2010)”, a song about confessing love to a friend. Lyrics like “Burning all my blank CDs never meant so much to me, ‘Cause I got my mind running to you” feel like they could be plucked right from the depths of a diary entry. They also reflect a trend on the album, with lyrics that connect specific details to broader concepts. Everyone can relate to the feelings of a secret crush, but the line about burning CDs helps create specific imagery for the listener. This makes each song on the album feel not only relatable, but deeply personal.
Ratboys manage to juggle a variety of different genres and themes. They are clearly expert musicians, but they don’t sacrifice emotion for technique. An album like this with so much going on can easily feel disjointed or confused, but Ratboys tie everything together with their trademark midwestern angst. This album is perfect for any fans of bands like Hop Along and Remember Sports or anyone who is looking for an album to perfectly encapsulate the complicated emotions associated with the fall season.