The first Bombay Bicycle Club song I ever listened to was a soft acoustic track called “You Already Know.” I would play it while on the train, imagining the road trips and midnight adventures I would go on in some picturesque future of adulthood—it was an escape song when I needed it. Four years after that introduction, in a time when we’re all stuck inside, the Two Lives EP (2020) has recreated that magical escape. A collection of brilliantly reworked acoustic tracks, Bombay Bicycle Club’s latest record delivers a wistful, wandering adventure in a time when we’re all yearning for the escape of the outdoors and life as we knew it.
The EP, released July 24, primarily features acoustic renditions of songs from Bombay Bicycle Club’s previous album, Everything Else Has Gone Wrong (2020), released this past January. Paired with artistic music videos featured on the band’s YouTube channel, the tracks and production encapsulate the music-making process during quarantine. On an Instagram post announcing the release of the final song on their EP, the band discussed their creative process in lockdown.
“It was a result of us trying to adjust to a suddenly empty diary, and struggling to come to terms with everything that was going on in the world,” the post reads.
The title track, “Two Lives,” is the band’s cover of Bonnie Raitt’s original song from 1977. Lead vocalist Jack Steadman wrote in a post on the band’s website that he first listened to Raitt’s song on a long drive with his dad and “instantly fell in love with the harmonies.” The band’s cover, and the EP all together, masterfully reconstructs that feeling: riding in a car on a long drive with nothing but the sound of the radio and pavement beneath you.
While all the tracks on the EP are the second “versions” of previously recorded songs, whether it be an acoustic version or a cover, Bombay Bicycle Club has made each song anew. The original tracks from Everything Else Has Gone Wrong are completely transformed by new folk tones, stripped bare of the beats and instruments that introduced the songs back in January. With the possible exception of “Racing Stripes,” the original tracks’ enticing combination of modern pop and rock alternative is almost unrecognizable thanks to their new gentle instrumentation. The incredible differences in the tones of these songs with the same lyrics highlight Bombay Bicycle Club’s versatility and creativity in this EP and in their growing discography.
With Raitt’s “Two Lives,” Bombay Bicycle Club’s third track transforms a late ‘70s ballad into a shimmering acoustic tribute. While their cover is more of a tragic ode to love than a ballad, the ache of Raitt’s original track shines through. The original harmonies that Steadman fell in love with find a new home, floating cleanly over the chorus.
The EP brings new life to the lyrics of already established songs—giving them two lives, if you will. The writing, which could previously get lost under more dynamic instrumentation, is exposed and bare thanks to the record’s minimalist approach.
While the guitar present in all four tracks invites that picture of a quiet and sunlit drive on the road, the lyrics bring profound reflections on life that feel more relevant now than ever before. “Racing Stripes (Acoustic)” speaks to a youthful wandering and exploration, a reminder of a life of nighttime adventures that feels like a distant memory to us in quarantine. With that wandering comes an uncertainty of what’s next, but a trust that things will continue and life will go on: “This light’ll keep me going / And I don’t even know wherever I may go.” The trust and uncertainty conveyed here are echoed in “Let You Go (Acoustic),” where gentle acoustic tones uplift lyrical storytelling of crossroads and unknown paths. “All the while, the roads are bending / Still I don’t know where.”
The uncertainty, which is especially felt right now, is even more persistent in the lyrics of “Is It Real (Acoustic).” The song not only asks its titular question, but reflects on change and a desire to return to the way things used to be. “Times have all changed and I don’t want that / ‘Cause I feel our lives roll past / Look the wrong way when I’m moving too fast,” hits close to home, especially to young people watching a supposed time of opportunity get lost in a global crisis.
The most valuable aspect of the Two Lives EP is its thoughtful handling of these themes. Stripped of distractions with room to breathe, we can hear and feel these lyrics as they deserve to be felt and heard. Despite its uncertainty and nods to our current darker times, this is a hopeful and uplifting EP, with kind music and instrumentals that create a folkish acoustic haven. It’s the kind of record that transports the listener, for just a moment, back to that road trip—that time spent looking out the window of the train—and allows them to daydream about midnight adventures yet to come.
VOICE’S CHOICES: “Let You Go (Acoustic),” “Two Lives,” “Is It Real (Acoustic)”