Over the years, London-based indie-rockers Bombay Bicycle Club have developed an interesting reputation in that the one predictable thing about them is their unpredictability. We buy records from our favorite other bands because we pretty much know what to expect, but we buy BBC records for the opposite reason—because we don’t know what they’re going to sound like this time, but we have to find out. It’s a risky prospect to trade on, but it seems to be working for them so far.
On their fourth studio release, So Long, See You Tomorrow, we find a bit of irony: their musical direction actually seems closer to their namesake than it has on any of their other albums, likely because much of the music was written during Jack Steadman’s recent travels to India, as well as Turkey and the Netherlands. These travels have obviously influenced the songwriting and the overall sound, blending elements of folk, electronica, and Asian sounds (Bollywood in particular) into a once-again unique offering.
The Bollywood effect in particular can be heard subtly in the album’s undercurrents, popping up in the samples of the busy opener “Overdone” and the pulsing electronica of “Carry Me” but surfaces most obviously in “Feel,” perhaps the record’s most danceable track and an apparent tip of the hat to India in general.
But Bombay Bicycle Club aren’t limiting themselves here, nor are they channeling one culture in particular. In fact, you can hear bits and pieces of all their prior influences throughout the record, from the effected indie-rock of “Come To” to the melancholy folkish piano ballad “Eyes Off You” (one of the record’s most moving tracks). Apparently, the band particularly enjoyed the electro-dance elements off 2011’s A Different Kind of Fix, because this is once again the most consistent element of So Long, See You Tomorrow.
The question is, does it work? As a stand-alone project, So Long does feel a little scattered style-wise, as though the Asian influence serves as a tether to keep all the diverse songs from flying off into space. Otherwise, it has a good sound and a good vibe, and fits the band well—and because of its diversity, I’d spin this disc for awhile before I got tired of it.
The bigger problem here, in my opinion, is a matter of identity. I don’t know how long Bombay Bicycle Club can continue reinventing before people simply start losing interest at the lack of cohesion.
For what it’s worth, I think of all the directions this band has taken within four albums, So Long, See You Tomorrow certainly taps a deeper well than the others. It’s not simply an experiment in sound—it’s a record that obviously comes from someplace, from experience, from emotion, and for that reason I feel it’s one of their best. But they need to settle on a direction at this point. This conglomerate of sounds suits Bombay Bicycle Club quite well; if they were to stay here awhile and polish this sound up a bit, I think it could provide a good foundation for a line of albums to come. Otherwise, I think they risk losing themselves in their own experiments.