Plumbiferous Media

Flaws – Bombay Bicycle Club

Nov 18th 2010
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Flaws - Bombay Bicycle ClubBombay Bicycle Club
Score: 78

While Flaws, the second album of London indie band Bombay Bicycle Club, was released in July in the UK, the band just released the album in the US on Tuesday, giving us a chance to review it. As the group’s second album since their creation in 2005, Flaws serves as a solid followup to the band’s 2009 debut I Had the Blues But I Shook Them Loose, as well as a creative album in its own right – though it suffers from incidental flaws that prevent it from being excellent.

Bombay Bicycle Club’s sound consists mainly of acoustic guitar and drums, with occasional mandolin from bassist Ed Nash. The instrumentals are expertly crafted, sounding crisp and often layering the mandolin with the guitar to create an interesting plucking effect. The drums are subtle and not always present, not intruding but keeping time and adding variety to the different tracks. Within the constraints of their chosen instrumentation, the rhythms and meters used are hugely varied and interesting – “Many Ways” uses a variety of meters to provide an off-balance feel, and the use of more strummed guitar and faster drum rhythms creates a very upbeat feel at the opening of “Ivy & Gold,” in stark contrast to the mellow brushed snare of “Leaving Blues.”

Frontman Jack Steadman provides the majority of Flaws‘ vocals, though he’s occasionally joined by other members of the group. Steadman’s voice is solid, but not much else – the epitome of typical indie sound, Steadman falls into an archetype readily. That’s not necessarily a bad thing; standard vocals are, as a general rule, much better than irritating ones. However, it does unfortunately prevent that part of the album from growing as far as it perhaps could have – though it doesn’t manage to damage the generally quite well written lyrics. At the same time, however, Steadman manages not to overshadow the better instrumentals – a positive quality in and of itself.

Lyrically, Flaws is always interesting. Bombay Bicycle Club does an impressive job creating the vivid imagery of the album, from “Leaving Blues”‘ description of “Riding home everyday / Sure, in a cinematic way” to the slightly psychedelic “magic purple” of “Fairytale Lullaby.” Among those images are interspersed lines like “Swansea”‘s intensely strange expression of animalistic love, “How I would love to gnaw / To gnaw on your bones so white / And watch while the freight trains paw / Into the wild, wild night.” Between the two sorts, it’s clear that, where writing is concerned, Flaws is a success. It certainly doesn’t hurt that the way the lyrics are handled is perhaps Steadman’s best vocal contribution to Flaws.

The instrumentation of Flaws leaves little room for variety – with an entirely acoustic ensemble, differentiation is hard – but Bombay Bicycle Club exploits every inch of it. Perhaps the most constant aspect is Steadman’s vocals, but the guitar and mandolin are used expertly to create many different effects and styles of sound throughout the album. Even so, the entire thing sounds a little bit similar overall, which is largely a result of the tendency for the guitar to double vocal parts consistently. Even so, there is sufficient variation that each track has a recognizable style, and while melodies are often repeated there are changes in the instrumentals or the vocals to keep from sounding stagnant.

Flaws is quite an album. Innovative instrumentals and beautifully written if often strange lyrics make for an album that is consistently interesting – and it’s done well enough that even lackluster (though certainly not bad) vocals can’t drag it down much. As a whole, Flaws is an impressive second album for Bombay Bicycle Club – a worthy successor to their debut, as well as a solid album in its own right.

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