Drawing comparisons between an Illinoisan domestic realism and an indie four piece from Crouch End might seem a bit facetious, but hear me out. So Long, See you Tomorrow, a William Maxwell novella from 1979, shares not only a title but an atmosphere with Bombay Bicycle Club’s triumphant fourth album.
Maxwell’s tale of murder and amity was praised for the author’s compression, the ability to cram an almost overwhelming quality of emotion into a few short pages. Thirty-five years on and for all their bombast and clamour, Bombay Bicycle Club has pulled off the same trick with their version of events. When guitarist Jamie McColl called their latest efforts a “progression not a revolution” he was dead on – and it’s all about the compression.
So Long, See You Tomorrow is a distillation of all the band have learnt since school, the majestic fusion of 2011’s exceptional A Different Kind Of Fix and Jack Steadman’s solo electronic work – and so much more to boot. From the first chimes of the opening track, this is an album that, much like Maxwell’s novel, holds you in its atmosphere from cover to cover and quite simply won’t let you put it down. I was nonplussed by the several tracks released before the album dropped – aside from the exuberant ‘It’s Alright Now’ – but they sit beautifully in the context of the album and help make it the irrepressible force it is.
Although the modest boys of Bombay wouldn’t admit it, this is a concept album of sorts, a journey through the day and night, dawn and dusk as its Eadweard Muybridge-inspired cover art suggests, and the songs match this trajectory perfectly. ‘Overdone’, with its deep guitar growl and soaring strings, and has the excitement and possibility of a new day; the dreamy synths and slow burning sax of the title track sends the album to an eventual rest. The gorgeous ‘Whenever Wherever’, a driving piano-jam over pseudo-triphop grooves is a highlight, and the album’s triumphant centre point, showcasing exactly what Bombay Bicycle do so well.
It’s impossible to deny the electronica influence – there are jagged samples galore, house beats and towering synths all over most tracks – but to call this a dance album (as doubtless people will) is way off the mark. There’s a fresh and intimate tenderness to Jack Steadman’s voice as he sings about love, loss and hope, but his vocal contributions are far less central to BBC’s sound than we have seen before. The eastern stylings of ‘Luna’ and ‘Feel’, inspired by Steadman’s travels in Turkey and India, are obvious but any influences are carefully employed and don’t feel forced. ‘Come To Me’’s early ’90s-Verve shoe-gazing guitars and the seedy Dr Dre-eque pulse on ‘Home By Now’ show that, four albums in, BBC aren’t afraid to try something new. Simply put, So Long, See You Tomorrow is the sound of a band at the top of their game – ethereal yet grounded, euphoric yet tender, jubilant yet never overblown. A kaleidoscope of emotion crammed into ten short tracks – Mr Maxwell would’ve been proud.
Photograph: Island Records