the catfish effect ~ has british indie found its chosen ones?

For years, indie music has been the bedrock of the weirder kids' existence. For all those who found comfort in verse and chorus, who read their lyrics like scriptures and gazed upon bands and the celestial light which followed them with hope in their eyes.

Here, Encore NI will focus on British indie and its eternal search to give these weird kids, well, something to believe in. Though for us to delve into such sacred territory, we must first understand what indie music actually is. The generally accepted term, is that indie music is 'music made independently from commercial record labels', encouraging a DIY ethic.  In recent years, however, the term indie has grew into its own genre. This is one of a (generally) guitar driven sound, with meaningful or poetic lyricism at its core. Like all things, indie survives through its visionaries. It adapts, grows and evolves like any other genre, though it has always maintained its importance on certain bands. The bands for which time only strengthens, rather than erodes, their legacy.

Assuming the birth of UK indie starts with The Smiths and Roughtrade (and who would argue?), UK indie has had its baton passed successfully between acts since the early 80's, most recently held by The Libertines (between 2002 ~ 2004) and Arctic Monkeys (2004 ~ 2009). Which brings us to a greater question ~ Are Catfish and The Bottlemen ready to take on this huge responsibility? Are they good enough? Here we review their debut album 'The Balcony' and look deeper at North Wales most exciting band.

It is perhaps to come as no surprise that 'Catfish and the Bottlemen' were formed around the release of 'Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not'; Arctic Monkey's very public soliloquy to life in working class Sheffield. Having came together while they were still at school, a young Van McCann would regularly skip lessons in order to practice with his band, setting in motion the opening chapters to their indie fairytale. Relentless gigging followed, alongside the all too familiar social media circus of emailing promoters, record labels and anyone who may give the band a kind word to stick on their home-made gig posters. As time passed, McCann and his band mates were eventually thrown out of school all together, accused of taking the band too seriously, though for them this was not possible.

"We weren't bad, we were just always rehearsing and trying to make something of ourselves. It's nice those teachers who were like, 'You're never going to make anything of yourself' are now driving to work with us on [the radio]."

But what is it that makes the Bottlemen so special? A quick scan of their social media reveals no obvious signs of genius ~ promises of 'scotch eggs' for any of their mates willing to 'like' the band page, posts asking friends to help pack out tiny bars and four lads, who loved their music more than anything else. Perhaps that's it. When you see them on stage now (as I did at T In The Park last year), the passion is so obvious, it's quite moving. Each band member is clearly having the time of their life and they make no apologies for it. Regularly taking the time to look at each other, open mouthed as the rooms of people grow around them, singing their lyrics, about their lives. 

Though it would be naive to assume that this child-like wonder will remain as they grow ever bigger, (they will get used to it) it is the feeling that Catfish and the Bottlemen are one of their own that has connected them to their audiences. Like The Libertines before them, when Catfish and the Bottlemen sing of "your friends who can fucking do one" and "missing your calls like a soldiers wife" it resonates. We've all been there, we've all felt these things, while Van McCann now sings it for a new generation. Though also like Pete Doherty's Libertines, McCann possess a truly impressive vocabulary which permeates some of their best work. Getting a field full of teenagers to shout "You're simpatico!" is a beautiful thing indeed.

As for the music which soundtracks their lyrics...well it's also brilliant. Really brilliant. Album opener 'Homesick' see's a solitary riff build to a chorus of cataclysmic proportions. It really kicks down the doors early, in a tidal wave of emotional, rock and roll that's became a regular feature of the Catfish experience. Further singles 'Kathleen', 'Cocoon' and 'Fallout' (which contains the brilliant "See I, I was a test-tube baby that's why, nobody gets me" ~ a true insight into McCann's personal life) follow a similar blueprint, though each with their own, gratifying results. The Balcony's true highlights though, remain in the lesser known tracks. 

The gentle acoustic hum of 'Hourglass', with its beautifully honest prose, is the closest thing to romance Catfish may ever get and sounds more sincere than anything we've heard in years. It's their 'Riot Van'.

                                                "And I'm so impatient when you're not mine
                                                  I just want to catch up on all the lost times

                                                     And I'll say I'm sorry if I sound sordid
                                                     Cause all I really ever want is you

Offer my hand and I'll take your name
Share my shower, kiss my frame
Cause I wanna carry all of your children
And I wanna call them stupid shit"

The swaying singalong intensity of 'Business' is eclipsed only by its catchy chorus, guaranteed to be swimming around your head for days after your first listen. "I wanna make it my business, I wanna tolerate drunk you honey". The electric charge of 'Sidewinder' shows the bands more aggressive side, in an impressive wall of sound, all the while maintaining the conviction of melody they displayed throughout the rest of the album. Closer 'Tyrants', ensures Catfish and the Bottlemen's debut would not fall victim to the 'album filler' trap that may have potentially tainted their first release. This time showing their 'breakdown' ability, it's not quite 'The View From The Afternoon', though Catfish are not trying to be Arctic Monkeys. They're simply being themselves. Which in itself, may be the truest foundations of indie one could ever hope to discover. 

Are Catfish and the Bottlemen British indies newest chosen ones?

In this writer's opinion, undoubtedly. 

Taylor Johnson

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