If you’re like me, then keeping an eye out for absorbing new films or an ear out for inspiring and intoxicating fresh music is a bit of a continual habit. Whilst Ratboys are new to my scene, the alternative indie band from Chicago have been around for five or so years now and Printer’s Devil is their third album. As an initial reaction, it’s an undoubted beauty that deftly balances the line between the best indie music from the mid-late 90s, in both the US and UK, but also a plethora of modern sentiments which gives it the deep, stirring feeling of being utterly relevant for now.
Truth is, it seems that Ratboys have found their way into my life and settled in nicely but if you’re also new to the four-piece, here’s a little summary: Led by singer-songwriter Julia Steiner, she teamed up with guitarist Dave Sagan whilst working on demos in hometown Louisville in Kentucky. After that, the pair toured extensively as an acoustic duo but have eventually melded into a four-piece, welcoming drummer Marcus Nuccio and bassist Sean Neumann into their wonderful world in recent times, especially during the recording of this album and it has sparked wonderful things.
Opening track Alien with a Sleep Mask On plays an absolute blinder that also tells you a lot about the band and their sentiments for well-crafted songwriting. While it may revolve around your classic big-chorus, there’s an awful lot more at play here. It’s one of those songs that weaves its way into your brain and I’m comfortable enough to say if you don’t like it, then you’re probably not a fan of any indie music at all. Moulded to the point of possible effortlessness brilliance, you can feel it as a live track, deserving of a venue packed to the rafters in the late, sweaty hours of losing yourself in the moment.
Follow up track Look To has that essence and hallmarks of a classic tune, I felt the heart in it resembles the likes of Hole‘s Celebrity Skin but this one has a bit more self-awareness and holds that raw energy you might find on Weezer‘s Blue Album, which is, of course, a legendary record. After the opening power of the two opening tracks, we move into the more melodic My Hands Grow, complete with a lovely rhythmic guitar motif and melody as the song progresses. It’s another great example of letting a song go where it wants to, naturally and with depth.
A Vision comes next, this really takes our hand and rests us in the imagination of Steiner, floating out into the ether and on the journey with the lyrics. It has a lovely balance between the likes of Iron & Wine and Devendra Banhart, an ethereal escape into the re-telling of a long drive and visions of flashing memories along the way, as if we’re travelling out there with the band.
Anj takes us back to the peaks of a catchy chorus, more indie vibes reminding us individually that ‘i’m not alone’ and ‘you’re not alone’, seemingly recounting a relationship that loves to give but might not always want for return help but this is a song that definitely sits around those big lyrics as their key focus, you can hear it as one to sing along to and make your own story from. Whilst there are numerous top tracks on Printer’s Devil, I’m specifically a huge fan of I Go Out at Night and would love to see it live. It’s one of those songs that whether you know the band or not, you’ll surely find yourself pulled in by both the music and the rolling lyrics that flit between different scenarios of where your mind goes, where your life might travel to and as a song? This is a beautiful beast of a track with a stirring melody and harmony, it’s a superb song with a stirring crescendo.
Victorian Slumhouse oddly echoes one of my favourite bands in its catchy hooks and stylistics, if you know The Bluetones, you can hear the band in this but – again – Steiner’s voice suits the storytelling perfectly. Clever Hans returns to a slower drawl, delving into the world of relationship power-games and changing times, with maybe one person more into what was happening than the other, complete with a haunting spirit but also the beginnings of accepting the situation in retrospect. This basically merges into Listening, which could well be the moving on from what’s gone before.
And then, before we know it, we hit title track and album closer Printer’s Devil another one of Ratboys devilishly-clever-catchy-little-tunes, if you don’t find yourself involuntarily (at first) nodding along then frankly, as I said before, you’re not into music as a source of escapism and beautiful adventure. If there was ever a song that surely builds, expands and explodes on the live scene, then I’m hopeful this is another one. It feels like it could buzz and hum along for an age and you’d feel it encapsulate everything, I just wish it was longer!
Printer’s Devil is a terrific assemblage of songs from a band who might not always know where they’ll go next but this plays into all the right hands, with deeply positive outcomes. Sitting somewhere in the memories of the likes of The Sundays and The Cardigans but with their own unique, more expansive edge. This is somehow an ageless, personal and timeless sound, yet hugely energising (and more than deserving) to slot into your record collection right now.