IT was November 2014 in the convivial surroundings of The Old Hairdressers on Renfield Lane and many of those in the audience were about to get their very first glimpse of the band known as Catholic Action. Clad head to toe in black and arriving on-stage to the sound of Thin Lizzy’s ‘Jailbreak’, Chris McCrory, Jamie Dubber, Ryan Clark and Andrew Macpherson didn’t carry themselves with that almost apologetic air of friends that were fulfilling their fantasy of being a headline act for one weekend but rather as a band that were acutely aware of the fact that they had the potential to make their presence felt beyond the confines of this cramped, jarringly-lit venue.
For music writers, there are times when going to check out an up-and-coming band or ‘hotly tipped’ act can be something of a busman’s holiday or a task that is undertaken with a degree of cynicism that can’t be quelled no matter how hard you try. In the case of this inaugural encounter with the band that are now preparing to deliver their debut album at the end of the week, nothing could’ve been further from the truth.
Possessing a hybrid sound that can simultaneously rival the most frentic of garage rock whilst more than capable of delving into the realm of swoon-inducing indie pop whenever the mood strikes, the substantial charms of the Glasgow-based outfit have been on display since the very beginning and they have only magnified with time.
A summation of all that has kept us intrigued throughout this pivotal first stage in their career, to hear In Memory Of is to listen to the band’s emotional, personal and creative journey since their formation in a series of vivid musical snapshots.
A long-time staple of the band’s repertoire and live set, the album is kicked off at high velocity with the glam-rock stomp of ‘L.U.V.‘ No matter how many times it may grace your ears, the vivacity of its decadent guitar-parts, tongue-in-cheek handclaps and the electrifying, dual-guitar assualt of its crescendo never fails to commandeer your attention.
The first single to be taken from the record upon its announcement, the discontented bombast of ‘Propaganda’ may be an exciting track at sonic face value but becomes increasingly mesmeric with further exploration. An enraged middle finger to the mountains of passive, languid, landfill indie that threatens to bury us all in a cascading avalanche of indifference, Chris and co utilise unorthodox production techniques, icy synths and filter it all through their own unique blueprint in order to produce something which is the antidote to all there is to revile about the lack of ingenuity in today’s rock ‘n’ roll.
Driven by jaunty licks that land somewhere between the angular playing of Nick Valensi and the sardonic style of Pavement’s Stephen Malkmus, ‘Say Nothing’ finally arrives in the world as a finished recorded product after being a monolithic yet elusive presence in their catalogue and it is undoubtedly worth the weight.
Filled with plodding, foreboding rhythms and an air of sinister malevolence that emerges amid its proclaims of seemingly innocuous ‘take my hand and take my advice’, ‘Breakfast’ registered as a turning point for the band in terms of brazenness to experiment with structure and genre and its efficacy has not been dampened in the context of the album. Culminating in an engrossing hail of guitar-based excess that once again attests to their love of toying with tropes from bygone eras, the pace is promptly brought down a few notches as the pop balladry of ‘The Shallows‘ comes into life. Initially sparse and stripped-back save for intermittent guitar and McCrory’s sincere croon, it is an ode to traditional notions of love’s all-consuming power pitted against philosophical ponderings about the meaning of it all. As he implores the listener to ‘put your faith in a pop song and grow your hair’ towards the track’s climax it almost seems that the focus has shifted and that which he wants to give himself to is no longer an idealistic individual but music itself.
Ramping up the intensity after the fleeting moment of contemplation, the energy is ramped up once again with the riveting combination of ‘New Year’ and ‘Doing Well.’ Loaded with hooks and riffs that seem pre-destined to be bellowed back at them for years to come, it is their reluctance to pander to audiences or industry expectations but continue to veer off on their own uncharted path that leave these tracks aglow with an unconventionally anthemic quality.
After a run of exhilerating numbers, their staggering diversity and propensity for writing pop songs in the vein of legendary troubadours of the past rears its head on the bittersweet ‘Childhood Home.’ Melancholic in tone yet no less filled with moments of playful levity in its instrumentation, it recalls the distantly uplifting tone of Girls’ seminal Father, Son, Holy Ghost albeit rendered in the intermingled production style of McCrory and Margo Broom.
Rounding things off with unmistakable aplomb, ‘Stars & Stripes’ brings the curtain down on the first chapter of Catholic Action’s prospective musical anthology on a wonderfully elated note. All soaring vocals and vibrant instrumentation, it is rare to hear a debut album that ends on such a self-assured and celebratory note that seems to prophesise that there is much more where that came from in the future.
Simultaneously acting as an enduring document of their steady rise and formidable songwriting pedigree whilst wryly pointing towards what could be in the not too distant future, it’s hard to imagine how Catholic Action could’ve done a finer job of not only rewarding those who’ve long advocated for their success with everything they could’ve wanted to hear but ensuring that those who were agnostic at the prospect of their album are almost instantly made to leave their reservations at the door.