Catfish & the Bottlemen – The Balcony (Album Review)

With every festival season comes a new hype band, and 2014 has definitely been filled to the rafters with them. From the eerie and absurd Fat White Family to the chart topping Royal Blood, we’ve been treated to a lot of great music this year. In and amongst all of these hype bands you’ll find North Wales’ newest rock sensation Catfish & the Bottlemen, who have slowly but surely built a strong underground following thanks to their highly accessible alternative rock and record label backing. Earlier this week, the Van McCann-fronted quartet released their debut album The Balcony. Read on to see what All Things Loud thought of the record.

Homesick opens the record with finger-picked guitar and vocal combinations, which lead into a rock-by-numbers chorus encompassing harmonized vocals and classic instrumentation. Recent single Kathleen follows, its powerful and emotive chorus paired with personal lyrics. The only problem with Kathleen, as with the rest of the album, is that the songs show no real progression towards the end. The songs tend to have great choruses and build ups, yet are then let down by either an abrupt end or an end which could’ve really been more exciting. Cocoon, however, is an exception. Forceful guitar and drum combinations are paired with tribal-esque drumming and effects-laden swirling guitars, as McCann sings, “fuck it if they talk, fuck it if they try to get to us”. The song picks up pace towards the end with a splicing solo and emotional intensity, before slowing down and turning into an arms-in-the-air anthem ever so briefly. Fallout proceeds to open with Vocoder effects and steady drums, before a mellower chorus makes way for a short, fuzzy solo. The first real highlight of the album follows, with the instantly recognizable Pacifier making itself known with jangly guitar riffs and melodies. Van McCann sings about there “always being something to hide”, with his voice reaching emotional intensity in an anthemic (albeit short) chorus. Alongside Kathleen, Pacifier is a definite festival anthem for the coming years. It gets big and intense towards the end with chanted “oohs” and another brief solo.

Studio background noises and a rather generic sigh precede the acoustic-based Hourglass, featuring military-themed love metaphors as piano enters the frame in the second verse. It builds up slightly towards the end, before it ends rather abruptly after just two minutes. Business resumes (no pun intended) the pace and introduces more tribal drums and large choruses which, albeit exciting, make Catfish & the Bottlemen sound more like a rockier version of the 1975 by the minute. 26’s distorted guitar line makes the song genuinely exciting, on one of The Balcony’s better tracks. It once again demonstrates McCann’s ability to unleash an unbelievably emotional howl, something which he undeniably pulls of well. Rango edges more on pop-punk meets Bastille, largely due to the distorted chords and harmonized “oohs”, whereas penultimate track Sidewinder edges more towards rock balladry territory with its great opening guitar solo. The drum and bass combination ensures the song doesn’t lose pace, before a generic Radio 1 chorus sees the band repeat the formula which has been used throughout the whole album. Tyrants closes the album on a high, with fantastic guitar work and upbeat drumming helping the album close on an epic, full-on rock-out, before U2-style “ooh”-ing and “ahh”-ing finishes off the record completely.

The Balcony is by no means revolutionary or ground breaking rock, but it’s definitely an album worth listening to. Songs like Pacifier, Kathleen and Tyrants show us that Catfish & the Bottlemen have definite potential for success, but far too often does the album lean towards mainstream pop-rock as opposed to the alternative rock it sometimes seems too scared to show off. However likely Catfish & the Bottlemen are for success, they still have a long way to go before they really hit it big.