Bombay Bicycle Club’s first album in 6 years is a new beginning — review
A decade ago, Bombay Bicycle Club would've seemed like unlikely candidates to be releasing one of the most anticipated indie rock albums of 2020, but here we are. Their 2009 debut I Had the Blues But I Shook Them Loose positioned them as the latest in a long line of buzzy British guitar bands with a worn-out copy of Is This It, and even in 2009 that trend was getting old, but Bombay Bicycle Club outlasted a huge chunk of their peers and they did it by quickly going on to sound nothing like any of them. The following year's Flaws was a complete 180, an acoustic indie folk record (Joanna Newsom and John Martyn covers included) that was immediately recognizable as Bombay Bicycle Club thanks to Jack Steadman's increasingly distinct voice, but otherwise a complete curveball from a band you might have already thought you had pegged. Cynics might have still called them trend-hoppers or criticized a lack of identity, but 2011's A Different Kind of Fix and its even better 2014 followup So Long, See You Tomorrow would prove those cynics wrong. Fix sort of took elements of both of its predecessors, and added in well-fitting production improvements, suggesting that Bombay Bicycle Club weren't hopping trends so much as they were working towards a sound that would defy trends. And on 2014's So Long, See You Tomorrow, they jumped ship completely and made a sputtering electronic-tinged art rock record that sooner recalled Radiohead than The Strokes. It was their most ambitious release yet, and the one that really elevated them from a buzz band to a force to be reckoned with. And then, as the album title perhaps implied, Bombay Bicycle Club went on hiatus.
Leaving off on a high note like that usually bodes well for a reunion, and sure enough, Bombay Bicycle Club started stirring up excitement with the early-2019 announcement of their return and then started quickly selling out shows. And though they did play I Had The Blues in full on a UK tour and release an EP of early demos, this reunion is not about nostalgia. They've just put out their first album in six years, and it finds Bombay Bicycle Club firmly looking forward. Like most of its predecessors, Everything Else Has Gone Wrong is unmistakably the work of Bombay Bicycle Club yet like nothing else in their discography. And given that it's a reunion album, that's arguably even more impressive this time. Everything Else is a glistening, electronic-tinged rock record like So Long, but it's less frantic. It's got a slightly psychedelic hue throughout, but it's never an overtly psychedelic record. The sonic experimentation of the record is compelling, but it's an album that's more driven by strong songwriting than funky sounds. The hooks really stick, and Jack conveys his lyrics in such a way that they're often driven home on first listen (thanks in part to him making very good use of repetition on this record). In a way, these are songs that probably would have had impact with just a guitar and voice, but Bombay Bicycle Club have landed on a sound that suits them even better than that. If every previous record saw Bombay Bicycle Club searching for something, here it feels like they found it.
I don't like throwing around the "M" word too much, but it does feel like there's a newfound maturity to this album. Or at least, Bombay Bicycle Club have zeroed in on a comfort zone that suits them well, in a way that maybe they wouldn't have without stepping away from the band for a few years. They've also found a well-matched collaborator in producer John Congleton, whose work with Angel Olsen, St. Vincent, Sharon Van Etten, Cloud Nothings, and more has established him as the man for the job when you want to make a rock-solid indie record. And fans of rock-solid indie records will probably find that Everything Else Has Gone Wrong taps into a comfort zone for them too. But if all this comfort talk makes the album seem flimsy or out of touch, consider the album title. Bombay Bicycle Club are offering up comfort in the face of turmoil, music as healing power. "Keep the stereo on, everything else has gone wrong," they sing on the hypnotic title track.
Bombay Bicycle Club released the title track and a few of the album's other strongest songs as singles ("Eat, Sleep, Wake [Nothing But You]," "Racing Stripes"), but Everything Else is one of those records where, if you liked the singles, the rest of the album instantly scratches the same itch, and you quickly forget which songs even were the singles. The songs are all distinct, but they're all generally in the same orbit, and that orbit tends to include krauty jams, lots of atmosphere, synths that sound like strings and horns and vice versa, killer basslines that sound like killer guitar riffs, and repeated refrains that lodge themselves into your brain on first or second listen. The album starts out on a high with the hazy intro track "Get Up," kicks into full gear on the krauty, driving "Is It Real," and then stays on that level for the rest of the record. It's also an album that starts and ends especially well, pulling you right in as soon as you click play and making you want to start it all over again when it ends. Much of Everything Else is a breezy, upbeat record, but it ends with its two most melancholic songs -- the sweeping, gradually-building "Let You Go" and the weeping, string-laden "Racing Stripes" -- and it's on those songs where they sound even more impassioned than usual.
It feels too soon to say if this Bombay Bicycle Club's best record, but it's at least their most consistently rewarding. And it's the one that sounds the most unique to them. Even their previous career-best So Long, See You Tomorrow was saddled with Radiohead comparisons, but on this post-hiatus album, they've settled into a sound that's hard to argue is anything but their own. It's a reunion album that finds them not re-living their glory days, but turning over a new leaf and making a comeback because they really had more to say. "I guess I found my peace again, and yes, I found my second wind," Jack sings on the title track. Rarely does one line sum up an entire album so succinctly.
Everything Else Has Gone Wrong is out now via Caroline International/Island.