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The Ride (Capitol Records) 

Catfish and The Bottlemen

Catfish and the Bottlemen have taken the world by storm since the release of their debut The Balcony (2014), building a reputation on their electric live performances and catchy anthems. Hailing from North Wales, they have set out to prove that working-class guitar bands in the vein of Oasis and Arctic Monkeys can still make it in this day and age. The band’s meteoric rise, which has included taking home the British Breakthrough Act Award at the 2016 Brit Awards, shows no signs of stopping with the release of their second album, The Ride (2016).

The new album picks up where the band left off on The Balcony, with more everyman tales of smoking with mates, labours of love, drunken nights, and the mornings that follow them. Though at times it feels like the ‘difficult’ second album came about too easily, showing little change in style or substance, The Ride is every bit as strong as its predecessor. Experience gained from their relentless touring schedule means that they sound more mature and worldly, without losing sight of their roots.

Album opener “7” and lead single “Soundcheck” use their festival-sized choruses to epitomise the talents of charismatic frontman Van McCann as he laments the difficulties of love on the road. However, the album’s weakest moment, “Twice,” with broad lyrics that lack any real focus, feels like a parody of itself. “Postpone,” “Emily” and “Anything” are clear evidence of the tightening of the Bottlemen's musicianship. The album’s main stumbling block is that it doesn’t feel like they have anything new to say.

The second half of The Ride sees the band try new tricks, and as such, is where things really come together. “Glasgow” and “Heathrow” provide quieter, poignant moments, and are two of the strongest tracks. Meanwhile, “Oxygen” finds the band doing their best impression of Oasis circa Don’t Believe The Truth (2005) (probably not coincidentally McCann’s favourite of their albums). “Red” and closer “Outside” provide the album’s best moments; they feel like a progression in style, sound, and songwriting.

Despite a lack of ambition, The Ride is unpretentious. It’s not meant to appease the skinny latte-sipping hipsters at Pitchfork—it’s for fans to scream the words out to in muddy fields at festivals. In the celebrity-obsessed age that we live in, McCann’s songs about pubs and cigarettes offer a refreshing realness that is hard to come by in music today. Though it feels largely motivated by a need for an expansion of their live setlist, The Ride is a strong, if comfortable, second album from one of the most exciting bands around.

Catfish and the Bottlemen will play Lee’s Palace on Monday, June 20.

- Jordan Balls 


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Congrats (Innovative Leisure Records)

Holy Fuck  

Befitting the initial backlash to their cringe-inducing name, Holy Fuck made quite a stir roughly a decade ago by upsetting and captivating listener sensibility. Currently a four-piece consisting of the seasoned Brian Borcherdt (By Divine Right, Lids), Graham Walsh, Matt "Punchy" McQuaid, and Matt Schulz (Enon, Lab Partners), together their records stand as veritable hybrids of musical form and practice. They are literally a trashy, found-object, non-instrumental punk band assaulting live audiences with abrasive onslaughts of dark, seductive rhythms and a sense for anxious, hostile environments. Then, there was nothing quite like them both sonically and instrumentally. But now we discover a reaction that is less than disgust and confusion. We find ourselves plugging in, fidgeting enjoyably, desiring more. Their latest release Congrats (2016), on Innovative Leisure Records, allows the ear-worm to install itself without much friction.

Eschewing computers and sequencers, the breed of unique instrumentation found on Congrats places them outside the realm of the conventional Soundcloud-era laptop producer, taking the DIY ethic to its logical and practical limits. The band's use of improvisation serves as a force of anti-production and disarticulation of the standard connections and hierarchies found within a more commonplace rock band. But let's not fool ourselves, this is not sterile experimentation for its own sake. While Holy Fuck now holds reputation for their bombardments of instrumental noise, these are not cold, impersonal, or dehumanized sounds. This is the sound of conflicted animals battling with the collapsed and discarded electronic wreckage of a bygone era—a sound that is all too comfortable and commonplace in 2016. Nobody but the most conservative and powdered wig would even wince at their namesake anymore.

Holy Fuck arranges and rearranges a schizoid flux of sound produced by a circuit-bent aural network of wire webs and button nodes.The entire musical apparatus folds and dissolves the back into the fizzy, quivering intensities of electrons that birth their sound. But they don't stop there: feedback screeches and squelchy wails are in turn harvested and contorted into surprisingly approachable melodies displaying true pop sensibility. This means that while the individual elements of their songs vary in pitch, tone, and speed, overall they flow together, forming an experience that swells but never quite forms a whitecap.

Sure, this record sounds like Holy Fuck, but this sound would be more punctual if it showed up half a decade ago. Six years after their last release, the chaos they interrogate seems, well, less chaotic. Their approach seems much more refined, synthetic, and expensive. This no doubt has to do with their decision to book studio time instead of relying on homespun recording spaces. This move places them ever-nearer to other electro-rock outfits like Liars, Hookworms, Boredoms, and even Viet Cong. Free from a smaller budget and chaotic touring schedule, the band may be in a more comfortable place able to do what they weren't before. The tense nervousness and exploratory floundering that punctuated their previously releases were wellsprings for their most captivating moments. I feel most at home with them when they are the farthest away. Perhaps that is why my favourite song on this record was the mysterious and haunting 59-second interlude, “Shimmering.”

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed Congrats. I just expected a little more, considering the world of freshness and intensity they provided me with so long ago. Holy Fuck's compositional techniques now serve as the majority of their novelty, despite being something that the more casual listener won't delve into or care about. If they were to apply their pop-sensibility and knack for sculpting genuinely moving, rhythmic anthems to more streamlined, less counter-intuitive production techniques, their music could transcend and flex into new sonic territory. On the other hand, if they eschewed compositional conventions and pushed themselves further outside of the musical periphery they are influencing and infiltrating, they could craft something more worthy of writing home about.

Catch Holy Fuck at RBC Bluesfest in Ottawa on Saturday, July 16. 

- Benjamin DeBoer 

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Should I Remain Here, At Sea? (Manque) 


Islands’ latest record, Should I Remain Here, At Sea? (2016), is exactly the sort of album that you’d find us bumping to this summer by the beach with friends or relaxing to at home while making an extremely mediocre breakfast. The Montreal-based indie band currently consists of Evan Gordon, Geordie Gordon, Adam Halferty, and Nicholas Thorburn. The album was released at the perfect time, as now listeners have about a month before summer fully arrives to listen to it non-stop and familiarize themselves with it. The eccentric drum beats and lead singer Nicholas Thorburn’s smooth and sometimes unpredictable vocals stand out as they make their way through upbeat songs like the album's first track, “Back Into It,” to softer ones like the melodic and very dark sixth track, “Christmas Tree.”

There’s an obvious theme throughout the album—from the over-use of electric guitar, which may feel like overkill to some, to the recurring cries of a broken heart, and the hearty use of drums throughout every track. It may sound slightly repetitive, but it ties the album together as a whole. There is also a solid mix of high-tempo tracks as well as slower, more emotional ones, creating a complete sound throughout the album, which to me is always a plus.

As their band and album names let on, this record has an extremely beachy feel. This sound stands out, especially in songs like “Fear,” “Fiction,” “Innocent Man,” and “Stop Me Now.” Despite this commonality, they all vary in different ways. “Stop Me Now” is very dynamic, as they explore different sounds like staccato vocals and a tap dance section, which is novel to hear in an indie record. “Fear” has a very peppy sound despite its dark lyrics, which creates a notable contrast. My favourite track on the album, “Fiction,” has an very Arctic Monkeys feel, as Thorburn’s vocals have many Alex Turner-like tendencies. The minor note that completes the song really gives it an edge, and it stood out to me from the rest, whereas songs like “Hawaii” and “Innocent Man” get swept under the rug. “Hawaii” is very haunting and echoed but it doesn’t fit the rest of the album in my opinion, and “Innocent Man” is so short that it didn’t have enough content to really feel complete. Despite this, there were no songs on the album that I actually disliked, and that is definitely a rarity.

As I have never heard this band before, I really look forward to diving into their music, as my introduction to them was a real treat. After listening to Should I Remain Here, At Sea?, I am excited to delve into the second album they released at the same time, titled Taste (2016). This is a completely separate project that sees the band explore a more electronic and synth-heavy sound. Seeing as on Should I Remain Here, At Sea? each member of this group really shines in their area, it will be interesting to see how they differ with a contrasting sound. The band has real potential to be much more than they are on Should I Remain Here, At Sea?, as a little less repetition and a little more exploration would diversify each song while still keeping a consistent theme. I’ll be sure to introduce my friends to this group, and am very pleased that I have found my album of the summer.

- Robyn Neath

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