In the last couple of years, Glasgow four-piece band, Catholic Action have been hyped as “a band to watch” and they’ve been repeatedly name-dropped alongside fellow Scottish bands like Neon Waltz, Baby Strange, and WHITE, who have helped Scotland gain a reputation as the go-to place for the best new guitar bands. After landing support slots with bands like Cage The Elephant and The Drums and an appearance at this year’s SXSW festival, Catholic Action has just dropped their debut album, In Memory Of, so it’s time to find out if all the buzz is justified.
The album opens with the simple yet devilishly infectious L.U.V and immediately you’re captivated by possibly the catchiest bassline of the year, bouncing drums, exuberant guitars, and charming lead vocals from frontman, Chris McCrory, which command your attention throughout the entirety of the song. Next up is Propaganda, a scathing attack on formulaic, inoffensive music, presumably aimed towards a majority of the pop/rock bands of today “is it ticking boxes?” and the song is masked by another catchy pop tune, this time adorned with bright, new wave synths.
Despite the fact that it’s clearly a guitar-centric record (and it’s all the better for it), Propaganda isn’t the only moment that they strike up keyboard magic. On Black & White, they create a beautifully unparalleled sway with an addition of piano and on New Year, there’s a wonky organ solo that brightens the mood and enlivens the song.
While many of the tracks display their trademark polished and peppy guitar tone and sparks of guitar pop genius, there are also remnants of the band’s fuzzy guitar origins on tracks like the surreal, sarcastic Breakfast and even experimental guitar bits that sound like they were made for a Hawaiian beach (“The Real World”).
Throughout the record, lead guitarist Andrew Macpherson and bassist Jamie Dubber both successfully cultivate their own distinct style and personality with their respective instruments and so much so that by the end of the album, you’ll recognize their playing in an instant. Drummer Ryan Clark adds brisk rhythm and crisp percussion to the mix for a full, rich sound that is masterfully created by producers, Chris McCrory and Margo Broom (Fat White Family, Dead Pretties, Goat Girl). Their production know-how is increasingly apparent on tracks like Say Nothing, where the guitars and vocals are so skillfully layered and songs like L.U.V and Doing Well, where they preserve the raw energy of a live performance without sacrificing the crystal clear sound of a studio recording.
There are very few forgettable moments or bum notes on the record and perhaps the only ones that slightly miss the mark are the slower bits like the tiresome chorus of The Shallows. Catholic Action tends to flourish when they’re at their most punchy with their upbeat pop melodies and hooks, but they’re able to effectively pull at the heartstrings with the two mellow closing tracks, the tender Childhood Home and the uplifting Stars And Stripes.
McCrory’s lyrics are, at times, playful and surreal “what do you think I think of you?” and other times sharp and pointed “I will never be like you”, but either way, he always has something interesting or important to say. In a time when so many landfill indie bands refuse to expand anyone’s mind in any capacity, Catholic Action proves that they are a band to believe in.
In Memory Of is an album marked by sharp basslines, enthralling guitar tones, upbeat riffs, assured lead vocals, and melodies that become easily ingrained in hearts and minds after just one listen. McCrory invites listeners to “put your faith in a pop song” and these are, no doubt, pop songs worth getting lost in. You’ll be hard-pressed to find many guitar pop albums from 2017 better than this one.