Bottling success – Catfish and the Bottlemen wow with ‘The Balcony’

2014 has definitely been the breakout year for now-four piece Catfish and the Bottlemen. Between their 30-odd festival appearances, multiple video releases, earlier and upcoming tours and the impending release of debut album The Balcony, the Llandudno based group have seen their popularity and presence on the music scene eventually rocket. Long standing fans have been awaiting the release of The Balcony for some time now, but after a listen to the record, it seems that the wait was definitely worth it.

Fans of the band will not be strangers to a large proportion of the album’s tracks, but this is by no means a negative thing, as the combination of songs really showcases Catfish’s potential and talent. Opening the album with ‘Homesick’ gives fans a song they are familiar with and fond of, as well as providing a first-time listener an ear-hugging indie track without unnecessarily complicated bits, which is at the root of the band’s appeal.

It’s followed up by two singles the group released this year to great reception, ‘Kathleen’ and ‘Cocoon’. The former being one of the band’s most recognisable songs with a garage thrash twist is somewhat reminiscent of the Kings of Leon drawl. The group’s strength lies in the simplicity of emotions expressed by their music, with ‘Kathleen’ being a hypnotically perfect example of this. The final recording of this really makes it obvious that the band have had a while to hone their sound and get their act together to create a seamless blend of strong instruments. Named as one of Zane Lowe’s Hottest Records in the World, ‘Cocoon’ showcases Catfish’s ability to mix up their musical styles whilst forefronting singer Van McCann’s vocals. This slightly more upbeat track stands out from the confused relationship angst heard previously, as Van inspires with a song that perfectly captures the invincible cocoon of a content and happy relationship.

Two more recognisable tracks are next up. ‘Fallout’ features unique and mesmerising echoey vocals before kicking into the song with a punch. It’s nice to see Van drop the earlier rock drawl and develop his own singing voice. It’s familiar to the ears, maybe a reflection of the popular indie artists that once populated the charts. Despite this, Catfish are in no way a run of the mill stereotypical group, as ‘Fallout’ shows. The second half of the track breaks the band into unseen territory, and it’s refreshing to see it work. As Van laments the fact he is a test-tube baby, Catfish certainly becomes a band with a unique lyrical output. ‘Pacifier’ then abruptly returns the album to the catchy and rhythmic guitar that gets listeners subconsciously nodding, tapping and moving along.

The latter part of The Balcony is all about charting the unknown. ‘Hourglass’ provides a brief respite from the slightly faster and louder tracks. It’s a really sweet song that maintains its rocky and angsty edge with the power of swearing. Van’s vocals take prominence here, and demonstrates the versatility of Catfish. The band certainly have more to them than unresolved relationship drama.

The rockier garage side of the band is welcomed back by the next track, as ‘Business’ sees instruments pick up where they left off earlier. This time, however, Van’s unlocked emotions carry on from ‘Hourglass’, and give the song a softer edge. This slightly calmer side is seen in next track ‘26’, which fits the denouement of The Balcony. It’s not the band’s most memorable song, but there’s nothing wrong with it.

The final trio of tracks brings back the band’s earlier releases with the emergence of 2013’s ‘Rango’, before ‘Sidewinder’ summarises how the band works together. Guitar opens the track, before bass and overlaying guitar takes prominence as the singer kicks in. It’s nice to see the music get an equal footing with the vocals. Final song ‘Tyrants’ also acts as a showcase, this time demonstrating the band’s range of styles. The slower start and emphasised vocals are followed by stronger guitar and bass, with powerful riffs leading the way through the longer song. It’s an anthem, no doubt about it.

It looks like The Balcony is Catfish and the Bottlemen’s passport to bigger and better things. Their angsty lyrics avoid the pitfall of appearing whining or moany, with focus on certain situtions giving th album emotion resonance and relatability. Although production appears to quieten Van’s vocals at points in the album, it’s a double edged sword – the music and guitars are really able to take the lead, but with the unfortunate departure of Billy, you can’t help but wonder how the tracks will translate live in October.

September 15th sees The Balcony released.

5/5 stars.