London in Stereo 20/06/2017
Ratboys’ aim is ‘to write songs that tell stories and honour the intimacy of memory’, according to Julia Steiner, one half of the Chicago duo Ratboys. With Steiner and band mate Dave Sagan’s self-described ‘post-country’ sound, the duo achieves just that in their second album GN, which stands for goodnight.
In this album, the pair build on the characteristics of their 2015 debut album Aoids – vivid lyrics of specific memories woven in coutry-esque, dream-pop melodies – with rough-hewn and even dreamier textures. Whilst most ‘post-country’ is essentially pop-country, Ratboys’ transgression of the country genre is a grungier, earthier form of Americana.
However, GN is far from unsophisticated. Throughout the album, Steiner dwells on memories of loneliness and tragedy with her hazy, airy vocals. One of GN’s more upbeat tracks ‘Elvis in the Freezer’ depicts the memory of having a childhood cat euthanised. Meanwhile in ‘Control’, where the album’s country vibe is at its height, Steiner sings “My brother Paul is walking aimless / My father Pete had turned away”.
The black humour and whimsy of ‘Elvis in the Freezer’ is met by its antithesis, the album’s fifth track ‘Crying About the Planets’, where the song’s overall tone meets the lyrics of loneliness and lamentation. It’s the album’s biggest track, GN at its most dramatic and a welcome departure from the quaintness of the album’s beginning. The lyrical honesty and depiction of situations grounded in explicit memories is accompanied by an equally honest sound.
The highlight of the album is at its very beginning with opening track ‘Molly’, with all the best aspects of country, lo-fi indie, and dream pop that resonate throughout the album coming together as Steiner sings “I just want to love my family/hold my shelter and lie in the cemetery/I just want to hold you Molly”.
There is no one stand-out track on the record; while all songs hold their own, the album is relatively consistent. However, with Steiner’s aim to tell stories and to honour memory in mind, GN no doubt delivers. The album is a worthy addition to both the American dream-pop and post-country genres.
This article was originally published on London in Stereo on June 20, 2017 and can be viewed here.