Ratboys’ sophomore album GN (which stands for ‘Good Night’) is the result of a sound instrumental rock band mastering the art of storytelling. Their 10-song compilation, which received an early release on June 27, 2017 from Topshelf Records, encompasses a special mix of personal anecdotes and memories from vocalist Julia Steiner and guitarist David Sagan.
The album begins with eerie vocals speaking over the light finger picking of a guitar, eventually leading to the opening lyrics of “Molly”. The story explores the relationship of two people, one possibly not feeling enough for the other. There are no repeating lyrical lines, yet the underlaying melody is catchily memorable.
Next, Steiner and Sagan share the story of a deceased pet in “Elvis is in the Freezer”. It starts out with a heartbreaking instrumental line before taking off into a surprisingly rhythmically upbeat direction. It’s easy to get lost in the twangy guitar riffs and lighthearted vocals until the last versus makes its round with “As the medicine destroys him/minutes make us realize/he’s long gone”. Behold a depressing mental image of having to euthanize a beloved pet.
A good minute of mystic instrumentals treats the ear in the opening of the single “Westside”. The entire piece exhibits a strong use of dynamics with a constant wave of piano and forte lines between versus and throughout the chorus. Steiner’s vocals take a backseat to Sagan’s riffs, painting a naturalistic story with the words of guitars and percussion.
“Control”, another single from the album, recalls a childhood memory of when Steiner’s younger brother wandered toward the path of an oncoming train. A verse details the situation as Steiner sings, “I barely saw it happen/ The ground’s monumental shake/ There must have been two feet between them/ Before those two hands snatched him safe.” Between each spoken versus, a driving rhythmic line builds momentum like a runaway train.
The album slows down a bit with “Crying About Planets”. Somehow, Steiner manages to make her voice even more soft and airy. Halfway into the tune, the energy picks up and the sound becomes grungier with only faint traces of vocals in the background before ending in distortion and static.
“Dangerous Visions” opens with an almost bossa nova undertone in the rhythm section. Dirty and distorted lines come in, which become the perfect complement as Steiner comes round to the chorus, repeating the line “I had everything, I had”. Again, there’s a nice use of dynamics throughout the piece with sudden build ups and draw backs, in and out of sections.
Ratboys put their twist on the idea of standard rock with “Wandered”. Much relating to the title of the track, the song expresses the need to return to familiarity, whether that be found in a literal home or back into the arms of a former lover or friend. The song itself feels familiar like it’s something heard a hundred times, yet holds an essence of freshness and personality.
In the title track, “GN”, the musicians detail their life on the road as a touring band. They drop the names of cities they’ve passed through, friends they’ve shared stages with and establishments they spent time at. The song brings perspective to the meaning behind the album title as well as to the personalities behind the music. The story and the tone capture the realness of being on the road; a fine line between magical and tiring.
An unexpected, but surprisingly satisfying love song develops in “The Record”. It opens in melancholy with Steiner’s effortless vocals over acoustic guitar. Suddenly as the line “a chorus amplified” is uttered, electric instrumentals drop in, uplifting the tune into a loving jam filled with a blend of perfectly cheesy love lines and well-crafted poetry.
The mellow vibe rolls over to the final song, “Peter the Wild Boy”. The song starts sweet, sad and simple, but the moment the cello comes in, the piece floods with emotion. At first, it seems odd to end such an album with such a sad song, but as those last words hit, “he makes thoughts begin”, and as the guitar dies out and the sliding of fingers over nylon strings fills the space, the ending makes perfect sense.
GN is available on 12″, cd, cassette, and digitally from Topshelf Records.