Bishop Allen - The Broken String
Bishop Allen is nothing short of an ambitious band. After releasing their first CD as an unsigned band in 2003, Bishop Allen ventured on a 2006 project that would garner them attention from bloggers and journalists alike. Still unsigned, the band headed to the studio once every month to release an EP, finishing the year with twelve releases each named after the month it was recorded. Soon after Bishop Allen was signed to Dead Oceans to release their second full-length, The Broken String, which contains three new tracks and nine polished versions of songs from their EPs-embellished without the constraints of a one month deadline.
The Broken String, fortunately or not, begins with its best track, "The Monitor," which begins as a slow-moving acoustic ballad. The song quickly increases its tempo as percussive instrumentation emerges, at which the piano's keys are stricken, the xylophones resonate their melody, and the vocals are emphatically sung, creating a playfully twisted sing-along melody from macabre imagery, "They're moving their mouths / But the blood in their ears / Is running down / Is running down." "The Monitor" is both dark and catchy, letting the band stretch its creative wings both lyrically and instrumentally-creating the album's best track, and, perhaps more dauntingly, leaving tremendous expectations for the succeeding songs.
"Rain," "Click, Click, Click, Click," and "The Chinatown Bus" continue Bishop Allen's narratives, taking us with their travels through stormy weather (playing with the metaphor that things can only improve once something goes wrong), a wedding full of strangers, and Chinatown after New Years. Bishop Allen fail to falter lyrically; they prove impressively telling of their surroundings while also successfully broadening their lyrics with metaphor. However, the handful of songs following "The Monitor" lack the effervescent pop glow their opener held, never quite finding the hook that keeps you coming back for more.
It is not until "Flight 180" that Bishop Allen changes the pace and direction of The Broken String, and with it they let out a hauntingly gorgeous piano and string-filled lament-a much needed break from the hackneyed poppy pattern. Bishop Allen leave an indelible message with "Flight 180:" they no longer plan to stand musically still-not a surprising move from a band that has released a dozen EPs. This becomes evident from the Spanish-twanged "Like Castanets," two-step experimentation on "Corazon," and female vocal performance, reminiscent of Maria Taylor, on "Butterfly Nets."
The last song on Broken String sounds as if anyone who played an instrument on the album came in to sing, as a chorale sings another catchy ditty of morbidity, where the foot-stomping melody masques the song's dreary undertone, "Who do you need? Nobody. / You're lucky nobody's around / I can pour my own drinks." It's an interesting finale, but it works; it is as fun and catchy as all many of the songs on Broken String aspired to be, and will be as hit-or-miss to fans as this album will be to casual listeners. After hearing the spurts of brilliance from this band, though, I'm going to say I'm a fan, and will stick around to see where they take me.
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