Music You Are Listening To: Bombay Bicycle Club
Bombay Bicycle Club is one of those bands whose name seems to pop up everywhere, from soundtracks to the XMU 15 Most Downloaded. They released a few really successful singles and EP’s around 2007, and they had one of their songs featured on the hipsters’ nightmare– the Twilight soundtrack. They then came out with a full-length acoustic album, Flaws, which received criticism for being released prematurely.
Bombay Bicycle Club's first album, I Had the Blues but Shook them loose, featured their signature Wombates-esque pop British rock. The album wasn’t available for an Itunes download in the U.S., so you had to search the trudges of Internet downloads to find it. Until now, their second ablum, Flaws, served as their first impression on U.S. listeners. Flaws was intended to be an acoustic showcase of Bombay Bicycle Club's talent, which is understandable; plenty of bands make those kind of records. Critics are correct. The album was premature. The group needed time to grow, to develop as a band and gather the listening pool they needed to have a successful acoustic folksy album.
The hype for its new album stemmed more from curiosity than excitement. Its early work sounded like the typical alternative British band. There were catchy guitar hooks, angst-heavy lyrics and simple garage band drums. Nevertheless, Flaws was this out-of-nowhere acoustic set with lovely melodies backed by quiet guitar picking.
The problem with Flaws is not necessarily the music. The album is beautiful and interesting overall. The songs are pretty, the lyrics are sentimental, and it’s nice to listen to while making coffee on a lazy Saturday morning. But BBC overestimated their fan base. 2010 was a strong year for folk music. Sam Amidon released All is Well, which took over folk radars. Joanna Newsom released Have One on Me, which broke every rule in the book and ended up being one of the best albums of the year. And then we met Mumford and Sons. So Flaws simply was lost in the current.
But when BBC released A Different Kind of Fix, they played their cards strategically. The band plugged its guitars back in, turned on its amps, lost the high-school motifs from earlier work and made a record that could stand in 2012. It ditched the indie rock sound that simply wasn’t working for them and started from square one.
The first thing BBC did correctly was to go and find, and possibly beg, producer Ben H. Allen, who is credited with Animal Collective’s incredible Merriweather Post Pavillion, Gnarles Barkley and MIA.
A Different Kind of Fix is all over the board with production. The album is composed of layers of piano loops, powerful drums, hand claps, distorted guitars with Jack Steadman’s voice and catchy accents guiding the listener through each track. Songs like “Fracture” have a hollow sound to them with breathy lyrics and drawn out notes. “Fracture” sounds like what an Editors’ song might sound like if they took out the IV of unmistakable Smiths influence pumping through their veins. The bass is detectable but not overpowering. The lyrics are emotionally accessible but carefully hidden in the more complex instrumentals. The same emotion of a younger BBC remains, but it has grown up.
Tracks like “Favourite Day” and “Shuffle” have introductions that sound like they came straight from a Matt and Kim record. The album sounds like it is a crowd of singles compiled on one source. BBC sacrifices unity on the album for an expansive palate—and it pays off.
For example, after an upbeat song like “Shuffle”, there is “Still,” which is simply Steadman’s voice and a heavy piano. The simple lyrics remind me of something I might have heard on Flaws. But this time the song isn’t lost, like most individual songs were in Flaws, but it is part of the entire album, like one piece of a puzzle. Each track is different; each can stand on its own, which is BBC’s strength.
By looking for definition and by experimenting with emotions and instrumental patterns, BBC has found its identity. The band's obvious efforts to find a sound propel the album. It’s an album about transitions: in the members' own lives and in their music, reflected in our lives and in everything. It’s like trying to bake, and after failing the first few times, ripping the recipe in half, throwing everything in the bowl and waiting to see how it comes out.
Rather than settling with one sound, BBC adopted thousands. The album feels like a work in progress, and hopefully it is. I hope it doesn't settle. I hope it doesn't find a sounds that “works” like it thought it did with Flaws. I want to listen to BBC try and fail, and then, try again. It’s this frustration and this tension that fuel their songs. Allen did a fantastic job of channeling the band’s talent, giving it boundaries and letting it grow within the newly defined territory. A Different Kind of Fix is just that—different. The cliché British post-punk just-out-of-college band is gone, and Bombay Bicycle Club is here.