25 April 2009

Album Review: Bishop Allen - Grrr...

Bishop Allen makes that kind of indie pop that's chirpy and adorable. Not eccentric enough to be comparable to Architecture in Helsinki or Belle and Sebastian (and certainly not as populous either with only two steady band members--seven other musicians assist the duo), Bishop is Allen is kind of like a tropical version of The New Pornographers à la Challengers.

If there's anything one can be sure of, it's that Grrr... by Bisop Allen sounds organic. The atmosphere is minimal, with every instrument ringing out in its own little space. It's reassuring to know that catchy indie pop can sound professionally recorded without becoming (too much). The background chorus on "Shanghaied" sounds fun and passionate, and listening to them I realized what Bishop Allen is about. They're that kind of indie band, the happy-go-lucky, always cheery, a little bit cheeky, taking The New Pornographers (and with them all the adventurous parts) and cranking the cute factor up to 11. Justin Rice and Christian Rudder, who front the band, could not have planned it any other way. They make no effort to remove themselves from the record, on every track leaving imprints of themselves--Justin Rice's vocal impurities (not enough to be called gravelly but audibly dirtier than James Mercer's), the distant clicking of drumsticks in opener "Dimmer", the hum of the guitar amp in "Oklahoma." This is art that was crafted out of love. The problem is that it sounds soulless.

Wait, what? How can a love-inspired collection of cute little bits be just the opposite? What is this madness I write? Is Jell-o now cake? Is George W. Bush a Hindu? Am I a teacup, short and stout?

Fear not. Bishop Allen is a band that justifies the existence of the likes of Times New Viking and Women, bands that despite such clean production are listenable because the emotions they produce don't sound like they were produced in a clean room. It strikes me as I hear the "distortion guitar" on the song "South China Moon." It produces none of the feedback expected and none of the impact it should. I don't slight just the production values. It's the realization that music is fun to listen to, and that's really it. The lyrics are passable and so wrapped up in the intricacies of relationships that they never involve me. Lovely phrases bounce around here and there, but I wish they meant something.

I have no doubt that Bishop Allen is a band whose members love what they do, but I wish they would make more than a pretty picture.

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