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Catfish Haven: Genius or Generic?

By Tankboy in Arts & Entertainment on Sep 14, 2006 5:44PM


Hard though it may be to believe, occasionally we at Chicagoist carry differing viewpoints. These tend to manifest themselves most strongly when it comes to discussion of the arts, though we have learned that the way to resolve contrasting opinions need not be through a duel to the death. Anymore.

So with that in mind, we decided to hand associate editor Scott Smith and music critic Tankboy each a copy of the new Catfish Haven disc in advance of their CD release show at Double Door Saturday night.

Dear Tankboy,

Since everyone else has weighed in on the new Catfish Haven album, we ought to as well. Especially since their show is this weekend, and our earlier conversations about it prove that you have no idea what you're talking about.

I'll cop to a bias right away: I love soul music and I'm coming off a recent trip to Memphis. So the walking bass lines, horns and swamp boogie rhythms of Tell Me didn't have to do much to catch my ear. Maybe I've heard too many artists that are trying to convince me that they're reinventing Echo and the Bunnymen, but the straightforward earnestness of a band that isn't afraid to dig into rough and sloppy grooves is refreshing.

"Don't Worry" is a hot rave-up right at the start that slides into some Dion and the Belmonts-style doo-wop with the title track. Most of the other tracks here had me wanting to do "the Pony" and consume some damn fine barbecue.


Dear Scott,

I think part of the problem is that EVERYONE does seem to have already offered his or her opinion of Catfish Haven. Unfortunately, most of this opining has served to paint the band in a slightly disingenuous picture. I mean, I dig soul music but if you want a band unafraid to dig into sloppy grooves without sounding redundant, might I suggest something from Pavement's back catalog?

Sorry, that was a bit off-track, huh?

Okay, so I'm listening to "Crazy For Leaving" and while it's certainly a harmless little tune, it's the same sort of song I've heard recreated by countless bands in any number of suburban strip mall music clubs. So this leads me to question whether we're dealing with a truly refreshing band, or whether we're dealing with a particularly effective publicist.

This sort of music usually wouldn't get word one on Pitchfork or Stereogum, yet both sites have gone gaga over Catfish Haven. In doing so, they've set up expectations for a band of great import and what we actually get is yet another competent white-boy soul act.

I've got nothing against barbecue, just don't try to sell it to me as Kobe beef.


Dearest Tankboy,

I'm not going to get into the whole notion of whether or not something should or shouldn't be reviewed—or how that happens (ending up on Secretly Canadian doesn't hurt). I think everything's worthy of a critical view and the CH boys are building a buzz here so it's worth investigating further.

I was a fan of their last album, but thought it was guilty of the criticisms you lay out here. It's partly why I like this album, since I can hear the growth. Tell Me isn't a perfect record, of course. Some of the latter tracks noodle around a bit too much, and aren't as tight as the earlier songs.

But having seen a few blues-rock bands in my own time, I know it's a lot harder than it looks to even sound "competent." Catfish Haven actually bespeaks authenticity, and since none of them were born on the bayou, that's a pretty impressive feat.

With warmest regards,


My most precious Scott,

I never said that Catfish haven shouldn't be reviewed, I was merely questioning the reams of praise that keep coming their way. I've listened to this disc over and over and over again, hoping to hear some of the same things you've mentioned, and I just don't hear it. What I do hear is a nice, inoffensive group of musicians, making nice, inoffensive music. Honestly, this sort of thing is lovely but I really don't think it's worthy of all the attention it's been receiving.

Unless, of course, this is preceding another indie rock backlash, wherein it will suddenly be cool to listen to The Dave Matthews Band and other "competent" groups that do nothing new musically and continue to shamelessly mine some sort of Motown-lite vein. Actually, if this disc was even a pale imitation of soul music, I might have enjoyed it more. However, a few smidgens of "soulful" blues-rock licks mired in a mix dominated by acoustic guitar-driven coffeehouse rock is barely even an imitation.

I wish our local boys well, I really do, just don't try and sell this as anything other than some 'XRT-friendly AC or I'm liable to get testy.

Stax of respect,

Decide for yourself who's right. Double Door hosts Catfish Haven's CD release party this Saturday, September 16th at 10 p.m. with Secretly Canadian labelmates Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin and Birdmonster opening. Tickets are $10.