Bombay Bicycle Club So Long, See You Tomorrow (Island) ⋆⋆⋆⋆
In July 1965, Bob Dylan played one of popular music’s most infamous live sets, as he plugged in a Fender Stratocaster at the fiercely acoustic Newport Folk Festival. Much anger ensued, including a memorable retort from the legendary folk singer Pete Seeger: “If I had an axe, I’d cut the cable right now.”
Seeger died last week and one can only wonder how he would have received the remarkable new release by his great-nephew’s band. Bombay Bicycle Club boast an illustrious heritage. Their guitarist Jamie MacColl is the grandson of folk’s grandest couple, Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger (Pete’s half-sister), while the father of the drummer Suren de Saram is the notable Sri Lankan cellist Rohan de Saram. Those musical genes would appear to be mutating, however.
The London quartet emerged in the late 2000s amid a fertile wave of British folk-pop acts, but preferred a low-key approach while others courted banjo-wielding worldwide fame. Their best-loved album is 2010’s Flaws, a stark, acoustic, beautifully melodic collection; ardent fans still eagerly await a sequel. Instead, the band have made what could frequently be described as a dance record.
The singer Jack Steadman is Bombay Bicycle Club’s driving force, and So Long, See You Tomorrow reflects his exotic, between- record travels. Immediately evident are influences from India; subtle tabla beats add spice to the catchy single Luna, but more dramatic are the Bollywood samples that give Feel a unique, well, feel. This eccentric dance-pop workout is the surest sign that Steadman and friends entered the studio with open minds and a blank canvas. Remaining relatively unsung affords you an enviable freedom.
The dramatic opener, Overdone, sets the anything-goes agenda, a magnificent progression from pastoral mellowness to synth-driven stadium rock. Electronic basslines throb and breakbeats clatter, particularly on the club-friendly Carry Me, while there are hints of modern R&B and blue-eyed soul on Home by Now and Come To, respectively. It’s far from folky.
True, some fine songs are slightly swamped by atmospheric effects – thankfully they favour sparse piano for the lovely Eyes Off You – but generally the sheer wealth of sonic ideas is mesmerising. This expansively eclectic record reaches a suitable crescendo with the title track, which takes in serene balladry, techno-funk and what could be a classic video game theme – more Sega than Seeger.
Bombay Bicycle Club may eventually settle for the acoustic life, but for now, let’s revel in their experimental period.