The first thing that comes to mind when listening to Bicycle Thieves’ new EP is “wow, this lot sound like a lot of other bands”. And it’s true – this Cardiff quartet fall into the same bracket of blue-collar, salt of the earth punk as The Gaslight Anthem, The Menzingers and the rest of their ilk. At least the vast majority of bands are great, and while this self-titled EP suggests that Bicycle Thieves still have a bit of a distance to go before they catch up, there’s definitely still something here.
Perhaps it’s because the bar has already been set so high that Bicycle Thieves feel slightly lacking, because they really don’t do a whole lot outright wrong. Let You Down has the sort of shimmering, washed-out guitar sound that bands like Beach Slang have called their own, and Everything Is Not OK powers ahead with its ludicrously infectious bounce. It’s all a bit rougher around the edges than the likes of The Gaslight Anthem or even latter-day Against Me!, but the songwriting manages to shine through, and the fact that these four tracks are all extremely solid isn’t dulled because of this.
What does have some impact though, is the inevitable non-revelation that a lot of this has been done before. Even with Bicycle Thieves having such a knack for writing a strong, sub-three minute punk song, everything on this EP has been done before, and the band become lost in an ever-expanding crowd because of this. The EP’s best song, closer We’ll Be The Ones (You’re Afraid To Be) might get close to reaching the heights of their influences and stands head and shoulders above everything else on offer here, but it still doesn’t have the same pizzazz as a song with a bit more innovation would. It doesn’t help either that Neil Doran’s vocals sound much too roughly-hewn for this sort of punk. Whereas Brian Fallon’s whisky-smoothened croon suits The Gaslight Anthem perfectly, Doran sounds as though he’d be more at home in a snotty garage punk band, especially in his barbed performance on opener Better Times.
While it may appear that this EP overly suffers from these faults, a look at the bigger picture would suggest otherwise. Yes, this isn’t anything exactly new, and yes, it’s still yet to fully take shape, but Bicycle Thieves have got some nice ideas that, if built on, will definitely reap in the benefits in the long run. For now though, this is fine enough, even if it will remind you that better alternatives are out there.
For fans of: Beach Slang, Jawbreaker, The Menzingers
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Bicycle Thieves’ by Bicycle Thieves is out now on No Panic! Records.