Whitehall – Swordfish Catcher (Review)

Whitehall are set to release their sophomore album, Swordfish Catcher, this Friday, April 2nd via Common Ground Collective. Swordfish Catcher is the follow-up to their 2018 full-length debut, Ocean Fiction, and follows the band through three years worth of growing up, both musically and personally. We beat the dead horse over and over again for years about the loss of the saxophone player whom we felt was one of the strong points of their sound, and while Pat Magwood is a talented musician, we’re done talking about the saxophone in regards to Whitehall. It was fun while it lasted. This is better.

While Whitehall made a name for themselves with the lighthearted sound featured on their first EP and on Ocean Fiction, Swordfish Catcher finds strength in having a thicker edge to it. It seems that nowadays vocalist and songwriter Paddy McKiernan isn’t afraid to sing about things that cut deeper, and have more basis in an adult reality. Perhaps this is part of getting older and facing those realities, but it’s also a sign of his growth and maturation as a songwriter. There are moments on this album where you’ll find yourself nodding in agreement, or cringing in disgust at yourself because of a certain uncomfortable memory that the lyrics bring to mind. These moments are often accompanied by loud, beefy guitar tones and well-timed drum hits that exist to help ease the pain.

Swordfish Catcher opens with the hopeful “Contingency Plan”, the fifth and final single released from the album. Here Paddy sings about how everything will be alright as long as it goes according to plan, but if anything unexpected happens then he’s totally screwed. Distorted guitars ring in the backdrop serving to say that nothing ever goes according to plan, and that’s probably where this album comes from, and where it’s headed.

Next up is “Tuesday”, which after giving the album a few spins stands out as one of the strongest tracks and is perhaps my personal favorite. Everybody knows that Tuesday is the most mundane day of the week, and apparently Paddy and the rest of Whitehall also experience that familiar feeling of existential dread while waiting for whatever the better half the week may bring. And perhaps you, and many others, turn to drowning the boredom and dread in alcohol just to get through the day. I’m going to crack open a beer right about now. And what do you know? I’m writing this on a Tuesday night.

Next up, though, things take a dip with “Automated”, perhaps a filler track if one exists. There’s a bit too much going on with this one and it doesn’t seem to mesh together in a cohesive way like most of the rest of the album. The high-pitched guitar comes across as a bit jarring and disorganized and I simply don’t enjoy it.

Luckily we get back on track with “Capsize”, the single that was released upon the album’s announcement back in January. This song has Paddy coming clean about treating somebody poorly in a relationship, and was one of the first signs we saw of the maturation in his songwriting that we’re seeing in full form on Swordfish Catcher. “Good Guy” comes next, which was the first single from this album, released way back in October of last year. If you were wondering whether or not Whitehall likes Weezer, the guitar track here has the answer you’re looking for (a resounding yes).

The midway point of Swordfish Catcher brings us the short “Don’t Make Something Of This ‘Cause It’s Nothing At All”. The song’s title is basically longer than the song itself, and thus it serves as an interlude into the single “New Hampshire”. As I said in an article a few weeks back, “New Hampshire” is nice and slow, with well-placed guitar melodies and vocal harmonies to keep your head nodding along.

“New Hampshire” rolls into “Swordfish”, the most aggressive and fast-paced song on the album and the closest thing to a title track that exists here. I wasn’t so sure about this song the first time I heard it, mostly because I prefer slow, meandering music these days (have you ever heard of the Grateful Dead?), but then I went outside to my garden and found the hook, “You’re a fucking swordfish, I’m a lazy catcher” stuck in my head and thus decided to give this one the Extra Chill stamp of approval.

“Untitled (Call Me)” brings another nod to Weezer, with voiceovers in the intro coming from what sounds like a party, or at least a room full of friends that includes guitarist Avery Greeson. This one finds strength in the guitar melody but otherwise it falls just ahead of “Automated” in terms of weakest tracks on the album.

The second to last track, “Tape Deck”, if I recall correctly was actually written by bassist (and occasional Extra Chill writer) Brennan Clark. They played this one at The Royal American a few years back, following shotgunning beers on stage courtesy of the team here at Extra Chill. This one has an early 2000s emo vibe to it, which Whitehall has always taken some influence from, but the guitar here sounds like it came straight from the first Brand New album.

Swordfish Catcher closes with “Two Eight Ten”, which starts out mellow and builds into a cathartic break that is befitting to close out this album. Here Paddy sings about going home at the end of the night, feeling disappointed and disillusioned, and waking up the next morning feeling the same way. Rinse and repeat. Perhaps because he’s drunk, or perhaps because nothing ever goes according to plan.

Overall, Swordfish Catcher is an excellent sophomore album from Whitehall and one that will hopefully carry them well beyond Charleston once we rid ourselves of this pandemic. We’ll give it a healthy 8/10.

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