Article by KevW
Does a band's lifespan (outside the mega bands and artists who will pack out arenas until they drop dead) depend as much on the same factors as it used to? So many groups are with us for a couple of albums and then seem to fade away, leaving a couple of classic tracks and a lot more that are forgotten. There are three main reasons why this has happened in the past. Firstly, trends can often last just a couple of years before the industry and public move on to different sounds. You either need to adapt to keep interest high (The Beatles, for example), or peddle the same old material until it wears too thing (their initially-as-big-selling contemporaries Herman's Hermits). Secondly, the artists themselves can feel the need to move on and quit at the top (Paul Weller disbanded The Jam in his mid-twenties with their final single entering the charts at number one). Thirdly is the classic "musical differences" (The Stone Roses would likely have made more than two albums if they remained friends). Nowadays, things are different. The medium by which we consume music has changed and centres more around the listener than the industry, so while there may still be fads and crazes, they could stay around much longer; there's no need to keep trying to define the zeitgeist anymore. The shoegaze revival has lasted longer than it's initial run, likewise '80s style synth-pop shows no sign of going away. So will bikos continue with their jagged, jittery guitar-pop that previously would have made them sound sooo 2010, or will they adapt? Now that it matters less, the choice is theirs, and unless they just repeat the same old tricks and yield diminishing returns, they'll still have a market.
The answer is a little bit of both. For starters, opening track 'Invocation' doesn't sound like the band we knew before. It has a slacker-rock vibe but is essentially an ambient forerunner to what follows, and what follows is 'New In Town' which shows hints of the jittery guitar band we knew before, but they're taking their writing a bit further and come up with something more soulful, and that's in part thanks to the female lead vocal. In a way, this track is a handy summary of what 'Bikos S/T' involves. The snappy vocals of Gabe Pearlman will always give the game away though, even on the excellent 'E.M.N.P/Modern Props' which is thrust through with more power than some of the band's other work - you could say it's less flimsy - but tinkling indiepop undertones are still present and correct. The clue is in the title of 'Secretly Happy', as it sounds anything but cheerful, with a menacing, downbeat start and lyrics about being "tired and weary", but the swooning backing vocals begin to elevate it and then one of those angular guitar lines joins in for temporary respite. Such changes are a continual feature of this album.
There's little change on certain tunes. For example, 'Ask If You Can' is their classic sound with added piano; 'Very Yes/Barely Know' doesn't break form much yet is actually a contagious highlight. 'Dollface Plus Robot Body' is unmistakably bikos and would have sat nicely on either of their other albums, however, they do show more ambition, pushing the song well past the five-minute mark without repetition. It's not the only song to do so either (although it is followed by the 36-second instrumental 'The Divide, It's OK'), with 'Best Of 2008' taking its more classic soul-pop sound over six-minutes and again switching sound slightly to prevent boredom setting in, becoming a southern blues-rock number for a period. Touches of Belle & Sebastian style indiepop abound on 'Lady Is The New Guy', but it's as if they were in cahoots with Talking Heads.
It's worth mentioning the extended lengths to show the progression; only once have the band previously released anything of this size, generally hovering around conventional indie/pop song lengths of three or four minutes. Even when they keep to this convention the sound is different, such as on 'It's Post-Prom' which could be mistaken for a number of Scandinavian guitar bands. 'Tough Cookie' is in a very similar vein, aside from the jaunty chorus, and contains a neat tempo change. More soul (and a touch of jazz) can be found on 'Your Case Helps', which leads into something of an epic last track in 'Re-Replaying/Awkward', where a cheery tune is married to lyrics that are sometimes anything but. It reaffirms the way that these songs chop, change and experiment. bikos appear to have set out to make their most ambitious record yet and really tried to push themselves. They're not the first band to do so by a long shot, but where so many other falter and run the risk of alienating existing fans and losing press attention, they've succeeded in their endeavour and given us their finest collection thus far. They just need to keep the dreaded "musical differences" at bay...
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