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Consistency for Catfish and the Bottlemen

Adam Shay

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Some bands have a distinctive sound due to longevity or specializing in a single genre, whereas others experiment in different realms using new techniques, instruments, etc. For Catfish and the Bottlemen, they stuck to their roots for a third album and produced an 11-track gem. 

From their debut album The Balcony on September 15, 2014, to the newest album Balance released April 26, 2019, Catfish and the Bottlemen remains a premiere global alternative rock band. The quick 35-minute album is filled with songs to yell as loudly as possible, relate to emotionally, and above all, love what the band stands for: the epitome of alternative rock.

The Welsh four-man band released four singles prior to the album’s finalization, providing an insight of the album’s tone of guitar riffs and repeated choruses. All four singles were great, but oddly enough, may not have been the top four songs on the album. “2all” would be the one exception due to great song structure, a clear sing-a-long chorus, as well as it’s explicit warning. Catfish is at best when they incorporate tasteful swearing to show emphasis on a song’s emotion and meaning. 

“Longshot,” “Fluctuate,” and “Conversation” were the other three singles, all focusing more on distorted sounds and heavier riffs, exactly what the band does best. Lyrically, the tunes resort to relationship issues, hence the consistent relatable nature from their previous albums. Any of these songs could be a knock-out choice for a concert conclusion.

With the four singles being Balcony’s start to the album, the latter seven  debatably carry the album’s weight. “Encore,” the sixth track of the album, is the best song on the album, maybe a top song overall, because of lead singer Ryan “Van” McCann’s vocals. When McCann allows his vocals to soften rather than straining his cords, it’s magic to the ears as his vulnerability sings, “…it feels like an uproar in encore.” McCann has an incredible voice and does not receive enough credit. 

Musically, “Basically” shows off the raw talent of lead guitarist Johnny Bond and has the best solo on the album. Catfish is not an elongated solo band, much like most of the alternative rock genre. Using similar riffs from “Tyrants” off The Balcony, his guitar explodes with power throughout the song, including a quick, yet impressive solo after 2:00. 

A common Catfish trend: concluding an album abruptly in rock fashion. It’s their mantra, a staple of their band, and “Overlap” does not disappoint. In similarity to “Outside” off The Ride, “Overlap” begins slower, with quieter vocals and electric acoustic for the first 40 seconds. A choppy guitar solo, followed by McCann’s powerful vocals, flows through the rest of the song in familiar fashion. When it comes to concluding an album, Catfish is 3-3 thus far. 

On the previous two albums, Catfish has at least one acoustic song to breakup from their natural rock demeanor: “Hourglass” off The Balcony, “Glasgow” and “Heathrow” off The Ride. Those three songs are a wonderful change of pace, and after setting the bar high, “Intermission” of Balance was the lesser of the collection. In a fantasy-daze, repetitive strumming, and a ridiculously short run time of 1:48, it comes in as the weakest link on the album. “Overlap” sounds as if it’s a B-side to an Alt-J album.

However, after the first two albums, it would have been a great time for Catfish to try out something different. The Balcony and The Ride are fantastic alternative/indie rock albums, and their same formula formatted a great liftoff for the band, but Balance is another appendage to the system. Despite having 11 head-bobbing songs, a switch of pace could have launched the band into the stratosphere.  

Balance was an expected alternative jam session, staying in their line and giving fans 11 more songs of what they already knew. With this album, Catfish reiterates their musical expertise and will continue on stagnant; the jury is still out on if this is a positive or negative. The band needs to expand their horizons a little before the consistency back peddles. Overall, the album produced great songs with little experimentation, but at this point in the band’s career, it’s fine to stick with what works best. 7.5/10.

If you obsess over singers and bands, and are one of those people who make a playlist for every occasion, join CMN’s Music Journalism Course and get real-time experience, intense feedback on your writing, exposure to music industry insiders, and a great place to display build your portfolio. Get all the details on the Music Journalism Course here.

Adam Shay is a graduate from Eastern Illinois University with a bachelor’s degree in journalism, During his four years at EIU, he wrote for the Daily Eastern News for two and a half years, covering multiple sports, news events, and writing feature stories. He was also on the rugby club team for two years, a member of the Society of Collegiate Journalists, and finished third in applying for his commencement speech. Currently, he runs a public relations system for a bar in Palatine, Illinois, and in his free time, he is always learning about music, sports history, and American history.

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