Putting the “punk” firmly back into post-punk, Glasgow’s Catholic Action‘s latest album Celebrated by Strangers charges forth with political lyrical bent and a sound that walks a tight rope between harmonious and cacophonous.
The songs here can march along with a smooth, strutting beat, like opener “Grange Hell (South London in D), while also creating disruptive outbursts with moments of pure noise and raw, garage rock production. Coupled with choruses like “Cos you’ll die, die, die so penniless, the best of times all dust to dust”, and it’s clear the band wants the music to reflect their songs’ dire outlooks. Second song, the bass-driven “Witness” is filled with darker tones and handclap beats that make them sound like Franz Ferdinand‘s evil cousins. And just as the alluring vocal melody snaps into a gang chorus, a wonky guitar line invades the song, as if making sure you don’t become complacent while listening.
Singer/producer Chris McCrory sought to use the studio like an instrument on the album, the it’s clear he’s enjoying experimenting and bringing vibrant, more interesting sounds from more traditional instruments. There are plenty of angular riffs and new wave harmonies to go around here, but most songs still find a way to break out of homogeny with slabs of sonic dissonance.
“I’m Not Artist” sounds like an 80’s club banger with it’s drone-like vocal delivery and dance rhythms, while “Yr Old Dad” brings together bebop beats, power pop guitars and a classic Britpop chorus. Delivering a story of a man’s relationship (or lack of) with his father, from troubled youth to the father’s death, the song avoids any hints of maudlin emotion even as it ends with a swinging singalong of “yer old dad is dying”.
“And it Shows” plods along a bit, but the vibe fits the depressive lyrical content (“I spend my evening getting stoned…I spend the evening all alone”). The lilting shoegaze harmonies threaten to make this a sleeper, but the addition of some off-kilter slide guitar and bluesy harmonica help save this stoner jam. And thankfully things pick-up quickly on the peppy, post-punk rocker “People Don’t Protest Enough”. The frenetic synths and catchy melodies make this one of the album’s strongest earworms, even as it doesn’t shy away from a little weirdness as the Talking Heads-esque “do do do do dos” burst out with robotic precision. There are also some great lyrical moments here (“Monetise my mindlessness or summon me to court / the adult beginner is trying hard to float”).
Another album high mark is “Another Name for Loneliness”, which rides high on a, hopeful, anthemic melody. There’s a warmth here that’s not found elsewhere on the album, that helps the soaring chorus and simple chiming hook brighten the entire track. When keeping things upbeat like they do here, Catholic Action are at their strongest, as ballads like “Sign Here” seem to be their own worst enemies (lines like “They are out to bore you” could easily be weaponized against them here). Even the jazzy, psychedelic coda can’t quite salvage things here.
“There Will Always Be a Light” is more thoughtful in its pacing, with atmospheric production that gives the hazy, spaced-out vocals a heavenly choral quality. Think Pink Floyd at their most relaxed. And in case you get too relaxed here, the album closes with the snarky, piano-led singalong “Four Guitars (for Scottish Independence)”, which you can break out a pint for while chanting along to the repeated message “When you’re feeling under the weather, and you’ve reached the end of your tether – go away, go away, go away.”
The album drops on March 27th, but you can check out the pre-released songs below: