There are few things in music more exhilarating than the sound of a young band in a hurry. Velocity, hunger, surprise: these are the qualities that keep a band interesting. Bombay Bicycle Club’s third album in as many years reminds you there was a time when new bands put out a record every year or so, each one expanding their territory and making listeners reassess their assumptions. As its title promises, A Different Kind of Fix is not at all what you’d expect. It is the sound of a band throwing the doors wide open and confounding all preconceptions. The band members have never wasted much time. Frontman Jack Steadman, guitarist Jamie MacColl (grandson of folk legend Ewan, nephew of the late Kirsty), bassist Ed Nash and drummer Suren de Saram formed the band at school in north London in 2006. They won a competition to play at that year’s V festival, released two EPs the next year and wrote their debut album, I Had the Blues But I Shook Them Loose, while still at school. It came out in 2009 and went gold.
This is where most new bands would take a year or so to regroup and plot their next move. Instead, Bombay Bicycle Club took a left-turn with 2010’s folk-influenced Flaws, which included covers of Joanna Newsom and John Martyn. Their label was initially reluctant to release a second album so soon, and an acoustic one at that, but Flaws grazed the top 10 and was nominated for an Ivor Novello award. “I think that’s what bands should do,” says Jack, now 21. “I don’t know how bands can make the same album over and over again. After Flaws it’s all out in the open. We can do whatever we want.”
Signposts to their third record emerged last year in the form of Jack’s low- key solo tracks on Soundcloud and MySpace, bearing the influence of J Dilla’s instrumental hip hop and Flying Lotus’s fidgety electronica. It was a dramatic departure from the stripped-down, organic sound of Flaws but it hadn’t come out of nowhere. Jack has been making electronic music in private since he was 14, when he first discovered Aphex Twin and Boards of Canada. “With that type of music, until you become comfortable with producing it, it sounds like a 10-year-old’s made it,” he explains. “You can be bad at playing guitar and a song can still sound great but with electronic music you need to be a bit of a nerd. I’ve been trying for a long time.” Pressed about what the new songs are about, Jack becomes elusive. The lyrics this time are clues and fragments rather than stories, and he feels more comfortable that way. “We were so young when we started, we weren’t self-conscious at all. We didn’t think anyone would listen to the songs. The reason I started making music was because I couldn’t express with words what I wanted to say.”
Bombay Bicycle Club have always had youth on their side. Through touring and social media, they have built a fiercely loyal, tattooing-lyrics- on-their-arm kind of fanbase. “I’ve always thought it was because of having fans who were the same age as us who could come to talk to us after a gig and relate to us,” says Jack. But A Different Kind of Fix is a giant step into adulthood: an intoxicating, enveloping record, which anchors its diverse inspirations in the warmth and dynamism of Jack’s songwriting. It draws the strands of I Had the Blues, Flaws and Jack’s solo instrumentals into a panoramic picture of what this band is capable of. It is a watershed for the band: not just their best record yet, but a promise of still better to come. “Bands these days get so pigeonholed by their first album, which 40 years ago was not the case, but we’re constantly trying to find the kind of music we want to make,” says Jamie. “And I’m not sure we’ve discovered that yet.” Long may they continue searching.