The concept of Americana, while never a particularly black and white term, has been somewhat distorted in recent years. The emergence and continued reverence of artists such as Bon Iver and Fleet Foxes has led to Americana being brought into the mainstream and even considered a specific genre in itself, rather than an amalgam of traditions, and only that. Chicago’s Ratboys perfectly capture the essence of Americana in their indie rock-laced alt-country.
Not to be confused with the emerging Brit RAT BOY and unlike Jordan Cardy, not boys at all, Julia Steiner and David Sagan make up Ratboys. A brief social media bio states that Steiner sings and plays guitar while Sagan ‘does everything else’, but a handful of able friends tour with them and feature on ‘GN’, which refers to the online shortening of ‘goodnight’. As a title it could relate to either sad farewell (‘Elvis Is In The Freezer’ reflects on the death of a pet) or homely comfort (‘Molly’ captures the joys of familial love).
The themes tend to sway closer to the melancholy, however, as the sparse ‘Crying About The Planets’ tells of explorer Douglas Mowson, stranded in Antarctica’s ‘ceaseless stretch of white’ and forced to eat his own dogs. The airy Steiner and soft drums give even such a grisly tale a delicate comfort, and such skilful disguise is present too through ‘GN’’s campfire guitars – “my heart’s a hundred tiny creatures that live and sway, where I am, but also far away”, sings Steiner.
The duo’s lyrical persuasions may be darkly reflective, but sonically Ratboys are largely upbeat. The warmth of ‘Control’’s jangling guitars and infectious hook may leave ‘GN’’s most lasting impression, anchored in classic American country-rock elation.
‘GN’Ratboys to be sombrely introspective and skilled in merging sadness and joy. The innocence of Steiner’s voice masks an ultimately troubled record, while Sagan’s arrangements both contrast and complement suitably. As indefinable and indistinct as Americana itself, this is more than worth a look.
‘GN’ by Ratboys is out now on Topshelf Records.