Rat Kid Cool seems like a name you’d read in a comic book or hear attached to a rebel on a 1990s family sitcom. It exudes attitude and sarcasm despite just stringing together two nouns and an adjective. Luckily, that assessment matches Year of the Rat, an LP where Ciaran O’Donnell—former touring member of The Front Bottoms—finds more control and cause for celebration on this solo outing than ever before. It’s nostalgic, self-satisfying, and altogether a lesson in progress and recovery.
O’Donnell avoids the trademark charm of his last gig by stitching together a narrative that’s awash with different colors and quirks. This is an experience for those with morning breath and nervous energy, with mental bald spots and bruised egos. “Sharpie,” with its groggy acoustic guitar and tepid percussion, could soundtrack a hangover or an anxious Monday, depending on the listener’s current mood, while “When Things Were Cooler” borrows cues from latter-day Weezer to confirm that almost everything is to blame for a narrator’s lost cool. And although the opener promises a listen helmed by “No Fucks” and reminders that “You Don’t Know Shit,” self-assuredness plays second to a post-adolescent fumbling for his life’s remote control.
There’s really something for everyone, here, if everyone’s willing to stay inspired by bold, weird choices. Here’s an example: Ciaran teases out stadium synthpop on “Okay” and horn-flecked adult contemporary on “Always the Same” and lets these two collide on “Patagonia.” Welcome to his Year of the Rat. Sure, that’s not really for another two years, but Rat Kid Cool’s early arrival stands to challenge what pop music can do when it thinks this far in advance.