Beginning with otherworldly noises that pick up intensity before taking you into the opening track, vocalist Julia Steiner delivers thoughtful lyrics with ample personality. This low key opener moves into to the catchy tune Tixis with a meta twist where she the last thing she sings is "The time has come to go to Tixis." This is easily one of my favorite song transitions ever. As Tixis builds instrumentally you think you understand this album but (to quote another) you ain't seen nothing yet.
Each song seems to tease the listener by going beyond the typical pop-rock format into a sound that is refreshingly fluid. Take the the surprisingly jazzy acoustic chord that ends MCMXIV or the mid-song breakdown on Charles Bernstein which calls to mind some of the best surreal moments of Bon Iver. One particularly memorable moment occurs on Our Morticians Daughter with the EPIC transition 2 minutes in. Dave Sagan really shines here on guitar and you see that this band is not only full of expert arrangers but fantastic musicians.
MCMXIV is probably my favorite song although the competition is stiff. I can't stop singing the refrain "I had no idea what to think about you" which is not only a catchy hook but a beautifully heartbreaking refrain to contrast with the upbeat backing instrumentation. Can I just take the moment to say how much I fucking love the Will Lange's bass part on this song? I'm wondering if this song is referencing the Phillip Larkin poem of the same title, as the song does seem to follow the idea of the poem's ending line-'Never Such Innocence Again'.
Ratboys have created an album full of subtle references and adept turn of phrase but the music always seems to change when the lyrics are at their most bold and vulnerable. This helps the listener really pinpoint the focus of each song as in "I had no idea what to think about you" in MCMXIV or "I don't know what to do without you" on Our Morticians Daughter. Seeing these lines together you can guess that this album is certainly full of love and loss but is so much more than that. As bold and inventive as the songwriting is, it's the little details that get me. Be it the vocal octaves following the slide guitar in Folk Song for Jazz or the spacey lead guitar contrasting the crunchy backing band on Our Morticians Daughter or even the perfectly hit full band triplet towards the end of Tixis.
After a mind blowing half hour AOID ends with a song called And. This song intrigues me. Are they saying "and this is our last song"? Is this a preview of the next album? A 'nod to the sequel' as it were? When the song begins you get the impression that you just walked into a room where they were already playing. This is a jarring effect but it fits with the album as a whole and certainly adds to my speculation of the song title and its meaning. After the rocking outro they bring everything down and Julia sings “and I’m not afraid of where we have to go” and we've reached the end. Everything about this last song (particularly the last line) seems to be looking ahead.
For all its maturity and variety this album could easily be a retrospective of a great career. Instead this is one of Ratboys' first releases. Despite a variety of sounds and ideas, AOID never deviates from the overall vision. Bottom line, this album has charm. When Julia sings of "Bugs like constellations" or how "you make me want to vomit" you are still moved. I'm still figuring out what it means to be "just a Ratboy" but I want this band to know that this is certainly not a bad thing in my book.