Sound Advice: Ratboys with Nnamdi Ogbonnaya (Jan. 14)

Chicago Indie Rock duo plays a free Sunday show at MOTR Pub.

click to enlarge Ratboys - Photo: Provided
Photo: Provided
Ratboys
A cursory glance at Ratboys’ name alone might give the impression that the band follows the long tradition of crusty, gob-launching ’70s Punk bands raging at the cause of the day and playing at a volume that raises nails from the floorboards and drops loose plaster from the ceiling. That would be a long way from Ratboys’ sonic truth. There are certainly moments when the Chicago Indie Rock unit performs with a passionate ferocity, but the group never strays far from its gorgeous melodic heart.

Ratboys’ propulsive yet gentle sound is anchored by the ethereal voice of guitarist Julia Steiner, who sings with a combination of vulnerability and strength, while the band — essentially longtime multi-instrumentalist Dave Sagan and drummer Danny Lyons — provides a dynamic soundtrack of frenetic volume and powerful quietude. Within their stylistic range, Ratboys hint at the Folk/Pop energy of Clem Snide and The Innocence Mission and sonic territories explored by Juliana Hatfield and Smashing Pumpkins, with Steiner’s emotive vocals, intensely wrought lyrics and delicate guitar ministrations set against Sagan’s angular and often unbridled fury.

Ratboys began in Chicago nearly a decade ago, operating consistently as the solid core of Steiner and Sagan, with a revolving support cast around them. Since its recorded debut with the track “Spiderweb 2/8/09,” the band has dropped a number of solo and split singles, an EP and a pair of full-lengths — 2015’s AOID and last year’s spectacular GN. At the time of AOID’s release, Ratboys were operating with a traditional rhythm section, but by GN, the band was pared down to a trio, with Lyons on drums and Sagan handling bass, guitar and pocket piano (pedal steel, cello and other accompaniment was provided by guest musicians). If the band’s Audiotree session (watch below), recorded just after last June’s release of GN, is any indication, a Ratboys gig is a visceral flurry of whisper-to-scream beauty and intensity.


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