Updated: Aug 9
The debut by Welsh indie rockers Catfish and the Bottlemen was met with a plethora of rough reviews from major publications from NME to Q, and while their critiques are not unfounded, and the points they raise can be respected, The Balcony was equally an underappreciated album that ought to have received much more praise than it received. Yes, it's not Arctic Monkeys or a reincarnation of the much rawer sounding 2005 indie rock scene, but what these guys did on this record was magical. With an album of only good songs, plenty of which that still get plenty of streams and airplay today, Catfish and the Bottleman ought to have been on top of the world in the indie scene in 2014, with even more praise and success than they received. The first thing you may notice on a spin of this record is every song (while maybe with the exception of Hourglass as that song sits in its own category) has a catchy guitar hook, paired with the longing vocals of Van McCann who is hands down one of the better vocalists of this era.
Homesick, which starts the record takes the listener from a softer start to the song to a brash and abrupt chorus. Although the start of the song may lead the listener to think they might be going into a more, studio-polished Bad Suns kind of sound almost waiting for the synths to come in, as soon as the chorus starts, that expectation is gone. The group then finds themselves with a sound pretty much of their own leading to a relatively consistent, yet successful format for each of the 11 tracks (again, Hourglass is the exception). No one really sounds quite like these guys, maybe Voila Beach? It's like Catfish and the Bottlemen are what The Vacinnes wanted to sound like, and those are really the only two groups I can find a noticeable sonic similarity to. Following my initial spin of this record prior to this review, following the explosive, almost KRock fitting abrupt hard rock outro on Tyrants, the last song on the record, Norgaard by Vaccines came on. After giving that song the rightful short 100 second spin it deserves, a subtle, positive comparison could be made between the two groups.
Even though, each song on this record is a good one, it does seem a bit top-heavy with so many of the stronger songs towards the front half, but to their credit, it certainly did not taper off after, let's say Pacifier. One thing that will separate top-notch records from great records is an ability to tie songs together and keep a listener equally engaged throughout an entire record. Catfish comes pretty close to that, but with the finest songs on the record like Cocoon, Kathleen, Fallout and Pacifier all being up front, it can be hard to keep that energy going, although man is that second half really good too. Cocoon finds itself very accessible to those within the indie and alternative scene yet still has that wider-reaching feel of adult alternative contemporary, with a bit more attitude of course. Tracks like Fallout especially fit that AAA mold almost sounding a bit like the sound you may get from The Script in Science and Faith or on the rare occurrences The Fray decide to rock out.
Kathleen has one of the best choruses in modern indie rock at the end of the day, plain and simple. McCann screams out the words filled, with emotion and angst, just as he does on Rango, two songs worth saving to your indie, or modern rock playlists. One sleeper on the album though is 26. Similar to a lot of non-singles, it can kind of be left behind, but the driving guitar line accompanied by a driving money-beat on the drums make this track memorable. It's rare to listen to an album where almost every song gets a save, but if you're a fan of modern indie rock, you'll find yourself saving a lot of these and coming back to them often. The Balcony embraces what sounds good in the world of alternative rock and steers away from excessive and unnecessary experimentation seemingly staying primarily in the comfort zone of Catfish and the Bottlemen, and only steps out when the result is positive and they did a great job at that. The critics missed a lot of highs on this record, but at the end of the day, we're just listeners like anybody else.