[POP DEPENDENCE] Considering the album title is almost an Alice Cooper reference and the band's name is cribbed from a postwar, neo-realist film, it'd be reasonable to expect a rich tapestry of culture on Bike Thief's Stuck in a Dream. Instead, the album the Portland five-piece turned in is a milquetoast approximation of whatever passes for indie rock these days.
Febian Perez, a Rhode Island native and brief Austinite, whispers his way through the album's 10 tracks, backed by keys, strings and a swell of backup singers. It's a thoroughly devised and expertly executed piece of work, just one lacking in genuine hooks and ruthless, creative passion. "We Once Knew," which features Luz Mendoza contributing vocals, accidentally approximates the guitar of Television's "Prove It." A fuzzed-up six-string solo emerges toward the end, a bit too late to save it from the doldrums. A few songs deeper, "The Burning Past" opens with some fey xylophone before heading into another slight rock offering, pushed to the brink by a slew of pregnant pauses and posh strings.
There's a disconcerting dependence on busy compositional finery that disallows Stuck in a Dream from being a collection of music that anyone is likely to revisit—and not every pop track needs to be four minutes long. Tempos being largely unchanged track to track contribute to the overwhelming feeling of sameness. That, though, might also simply be chalked up to members of Bike Thief being so certain of themselves that they've settled on a specific set of restrictive dynamics they're unwilling to deviate from. It's difficult to find technical fault with anything that Perez and his troupe turn in here, but that's mostly due to all of it being framed within expectations of a genre and a clutch of influences that's been sterilized and codified since the new millennium.
SEE IT: Bike Thief plays Bunk Bar, 1028 SE Water Ave., with the Weather Machine, on Saturday, Aug. 30. 10 pm. $7. 21+.