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Catfish and the Bottlemen's 'The Balance' marks the band's third studio album. (Photo via @CapitolRecords on Twitter)

Album Review: Catfish and the Bottlemen maintains its distinct sound on ‘The Balance’

Indie-rock has seemingly taken over the music world in 2019 thus far, with huge releases from bands including Cage The Elephant and Wallows. Another familiar face to the genre, Catfish and the Bottlemen, has resurfaced to drop its first album in three years and add to the dominance.

The Wales-based band released The Balance on Friday. The 11-track narrative tackles issues predominantly surrounding relationships, including manipulation, doubt and endless love.

Frontman Van McCann and former guitarist Billy Bibby formed the band under the moniker The Prestige in 2007 after they met when McCann became friends with Bibby’s younger brother, Stephen. Benji Blakeway eventually joined as a bassist and schoolmate Jon Barr followed suit as a drummer. Bob Hall replaced Barr in 2010 and Johnny Bond superseded Bibby, who went to start his own band, Billy Bibby & The Wry Smiles, after leaving in 2013.

The band became Catfish and the Bottlemen based off McCann’s childhood vacation trip to Australia when he saw a busker named Michael Bevan, who goes by Catfish the Bottleman, playing beer bottles tied to a wire. He’s nicknamed Catfish because of the spiky beard he had when he began playing music, and he went on to become a finalist on Australia’s Got Talent in 2008. 

Despite Catfish and the Bottlemen’s shaky start with different members coming in and out, one key part of the band has always remained the same: its distinct sound. The Balance is no different. The album provides the familiar, angsty vibes from the platinum-certified debut album The Balcony and the follow-up The Ride, but too much of the same can get a bit old. The album becomes almost repetitive at times while listening all the way through, but that may be because its sound is appealing and memorable. “Overlap” starts with a glimpse of groove guitar, hinting at the possibility of something different, but digs into the chorus with a comparable sound to that of the rest of the album. “Intermission” is unnecessary altogether and stands as the album’s sole second-rate track. Overall, the album is up to par with its other conspicuous discography.

Here are the five best tracks from The Balance

5. “Coincide”

The track almosts coincides with Wallows’ hit “Are You Bored Yet?” in terms of its theme of relationships going dull. It’s clear from the first lyric: “I just about dodged a convo on nothing.” The pairing in “Coincide” is different, though, in that they only remain together because blandless has commanded their world, and they have nothing but each other. McCann knows he and his significant other only cling to each other in times of boredom, and he confronts her about it: “And I need more from tonight / And I know the same crossed your mind / ’Cause we both coincide when the world’s wasting time.” The catchy guitar riff, gripping bass and methodical drumming express McCann’s frustrating predicament flawlessly.

4. “2all”

Infused with ardent lyrics, “2all,” is an anthem about ignoring society’s standards and asserting love only to the people that have never left your side. The music stays low until the guitar solo pervades energy into the track’s remnants, but the blend of serene instrumentation in the chorus perfectly outlines what it feels like to remember those you love endlessly: “They said, ‘I give my love to all, all the ones that stuck around / The ones I counted on when I needed to get out / And I share my love with all.’” The track is an excellent reminder to not feel like you have to conform to society’s standards and to show your love to the people who adore you for who you genuinely are.

3. “Fluctuate”

A track the band debuted at This Is Tomorrow Festival in May 2018, “Fluctuate” portrays McCann’s infatuation with a girl and how he’s begging her to keep him blind with love no matter what. McCann hints that his significant other may be manipulative or troubling, but he’s head over heels nonetheless. McCann’s vocals get more aggressive as the track continues, but the softest include the most profound lyrics: “So pull the love over my eyes ’cause I fluctuate about you / If you’re a blessing in disguise, how did I realize?” The track is immensely thought-provoking about the crazy things love can cause someone to do.

2. “Longshot”

“Longshot” brilliantly paints a picture of the complexity of long distance relationships. The feel-good guitar line helps accurately show that although distance is difficult, it’s all worth it when you’re reconnected with the person you love: “Listen, the distance between us could’ve took a while / Once we closed that difference, you’d turn up like a friend of mine / Every once in a while, the little things make me smile as if one of our longshots paid off.” Whether it’s from the gorgeous instrumentation or McCann’s infectious vocals, “Longshot” will instantly instill happiness in you, and it was the quintessential way to open the album.

1. “Encore”

McCann uses the metaphor of comparing an on-and-off relationship to an encore because each time they reconcile, “you’ll notice it gets better.” The roaring guitars from start to finish intermix beautifully with McCann’s aggressive vocals. He’s comparing his relationship to the feeling he gets when he’s doing what he obviously loves most: performing. The love he has for this girl is blatant in more ways than one: “And trust me, when you get it right, we’re tenfold to that same, old, plain routine from night to night / And trust me, it feels like an uproar in encore when you ask of me to walk that line.” Every part of this track is infectious, and it’s unquestionably the best on The Balance.

Rating: 7.5/10


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