Difficult second album syndrome neatly avoided by north London indie kids.
Paul Lester 2010
There was a vogue last year for second albums that were markedly different to the artists in question’s debuts. Jack Peñate, The Maccabees and The Horrors all changed direction, and mostly for the better. The latter in particular earned praise for their about-turn, from mediocre goth-rock to a tantalising blend of krautrock and post-My Bloody Valentine drone.
Bombay Bicycle Club – BBC to their friends – have arguably effected the most radical volte-face of all. Their first album, 2009’s I Had The Blues But I Shook Them Loose, was promising indie noise-pop, also bearing a pleasing MBV influence. Right at the end of the album, though, there was a relatively pared-down piece of poignant acoustica called The Giantess that, little did we know, pointed the way towards their second release.
Flaws, co-produced by guitarist/backing vocalist Jamie MacColl’s dad Neil (brother of Kirsty, son of folkie Ewan) and mainman Jack Steadman (lead vocals, guitar, xylophone, banjo), is almost entirely acoustic, whether it’s the original material or the covers – there’s a version of John Martyn’s Fairytale Lullaby, while Swansea features lyrics from the Joanna Newsom track of the same name. Deeper investigation of BBC’s catalogue will reveal that their single B sides were often acoustic, but still, hearing a whole album of folk, blues and country-inflected ballads (apparently inspired by Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music) from the NME’s Best New Band of 2010 still feels quite odd.
Even the faster numbers are steeped in traditional music. On opener Rinse Me Down and second track Many Ways, the rhythms are gently skittering, like rustic drum’n’bass played by early 20th century farm hands. Steadman’s vocal stands out – its tremulous quality may be a hangover from, as the story goes, embarrassment at being overheard singing as a kid, but it heightens the sense of an authentically troubled spirit exorcising his demons in the quietly devastating manner of a Nick Drake. On My God his voice is disconcertingly double-tracked, as though haunted by his ghostly twin. Dust on the Ground is perhaps most striking, not least because it is a folk rendition of a track from that debut album that proves how abrupt this change of direction was, not to mention how adaptable Steadman’s melodies are.