Our Take: Catfish and the Bottlemen Have Found Their Success Formula, and Stick to It on ‘The Balance’

CatB The Balance Artwork
Perhaps too comfortable in their sound, Catfish and the Bottlemen avoid taking risks and deliver a satisfactory, yet not impressive, album

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There is certainly an element of charm in the imperfections of DIY indie bands – the whole self-taught guitarists story comes across as evidence for a musician’s authenticity, and fairly enough, sells well in a world where listeners can smell the intervention and manufacturing of a record label from miles away.

This is the backstory of Catfish and the Bottlemen and its front man, Ryan Evan ‘Van’ McCann, and since it did indeed gain them the success they enjoy today, they have hung on to that lo-fi sound that characterises noughties indie and amateur bands. Except the noughties are long gone, and they’re not amateurs anymore.

Released April 26 via Island Records, The Balance religiously follows the path established in the two previous albums, meeting the expectations, but arguably failing to excel. Consistency is key to an artist’s success, although there is a fine line between being consistent and getting stagnant and, in this case, that line seems to be blurred. Nevertheless, this lack of development in their sound does not seem to hinder Catfish and the Bottlemen’s success.

Listen: The Balance – Catfish and the Bottlemen

Opening track “Longshot” starts with some background voices that seem to be accidentally recorded, intentionally left in; an old trick that, in this particular instance, does the job. It triggers some sort of nostalgia; it makes you think that this is one of those albums created by some friends in their mum’s garage. In other words, it feels genuine.

Following track “Fluctuates” is possibly one of the highlights of the album. Solid strumming, simple yet effective drums, tasteful stops and the occasional distortion set up the direction of the song from the start. The lyrics, conversational to a point where they even seem spontaneous, are definitely a key feature.

Watch: “Longshot” – Catfish and the Bottlemen

Unfortunately, after this point the album starts to feel repetitive, with the songs losing their individuality and merging into one sound that just drags on. The songs become unremarkable, and the lack of memorable hooks does not help the cause. However, this may be their aim for the album, and if what they are trying to do is to create an overall distinctive sound, they are probably on the right path.

Exactly halfway through the album, “Encore” brings it back up. The main asset of the song is its inherent energy – it consistently builds up from beginning to end, inviting the listener to become part of an experience; it feels nearly anthemic. It could be the soundtrack to a house party full of kids wearing oversized denim jackets and smoking rolled cigarettes, struggling with their identities and trying to be different in order to be cool. It sparks something, a memory, a feeling, it paints a scene.

The bridge lifts the song’s dynamics up, stripping it back to then bring in a consistent beat that summons the audience to clap along, preceding a last chorus that starts small and quickly grows before exploding with a guitar riff into McCann’s last lyrics:

And trust me, it feels like an uproar in encore
When you ask of me
To walk that line

The last song of the album, “Overlap”, starts in an unexciting manner, but it takes a pleasantly surprising turn rather quick. As soon as it moves from the intimate, bedroom demo vibes, it transforms into a captivating, almost catchy tune. The playful timing and contrasting sections make it interesting, in a way making up for the homogeneity of the rest of the album.

I know that if paths keep crossing
And your life keeps lapping
Over me
I know that if paths keep crossing
And your life keeps lapping
Over me
Then tell us what’s your boy to do?
Over me
I go straight from mine to work to y-

And then that’s it. The song ends in the midst of a climax, in the same way that “Tyrants” and “Outside”, the final tracks of the two previous albums, do. Unresolved, it seems like an attempt to catch the listener’s attention, something that perhaps should have been done at some point earlier in the album.

Another aspect to be noted is how Catfish and the Bottlemen stuck to the white-outline-on-black-background artwork, one word song titles and two word album title. Although a great example of coherence in terms of artist image, The Balance is not an outstanding piece of work, their sound not seeming to have evolved since 2014’s The Balcony; their songs, consistent but hardly memorable. Catfish and the Bottlemen seem to have found a formula that works for them. For how long will it last? Only time will tell.

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CatB The Balance Artwork

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