Album Review: Bishop Allen – Lights Out

bishop_allen_lights_outBishop Allen hasn’t released an album since 2009. Their newest effort, Lights Out, dropped via Dead Oceans earlier this week. “Start Again” and “Why I Had to Go,” the album’s first two songs, emerged as singles in the last few months leading up to the record’s release. Both are upbeat, pristine pop. They’re tight, transitioning in all the right places, moving through perfect song structures. They’re almost too perfect. Shiny and synthy, the songs have no rawness, nothing primitive within them that makes your insides turn. Bishop Allen has always been at their best when singer Justin Rice’s quavering voice breaks a little as he delivers some emotionally vulnerable line.

Even though these first two singles had me excited for a new Bishop Allen record, I worried they’d lost that thing that makes them who they are. But judging a band by their single can be a bit like judging a book by its cover. As Lights Out unfolds, plenty of less controlled indie pop is to be found as Rice and co. experiment with sounds and styles over the record’s twelve songs. I’m not convinced that they recapture the power of some of their earliest songs, “Coupla Easy Things,” “Corazon,” “The Same Fire,” or even later songs like “Middle Management,” but Lights Out does possess an upward trajectory.

Immediately following the cohesive pair of opening tracks, “Crows” features twinkling guitar parts and African rhythms. The track has the feel of summer fun and leans toward the Afro-centric pop created by Vampire Weekend. And even if the track feels similar to contemporaries, the style is solid due to Bishop Allen’s undeniably adept treatment. “No Show” uses laid-back vibes and snappy vocal structure to create a nonchalant rock ‘n’ roll track. Airy and catchy as hell, “Black Hole” utilizes female vocals to great effect. “Skeleton Key” borders on funky, and the buzzing synths provide great texture.

“Good Talk” feels like four songs in one, moving between diverse parts and styles, including a spoken interlude in which a voice intones, “Building it up! Bringing it down!” You can’t hear without thinking of Talking Heads, a point of reference that crops up again on “Bread Crumbs.” The slow-burning “No Conditions” and peaceful, female-vocal centered “Shadow,” end the album as a solid pair of tracks. I can’t help but think that the album’s weakest tracks, or certainly its least interesting, are its first two; these are the polished numbers that might be the most palatable for audiences everywhere, but don’t let them deter you if you’re hoping for something less safe. Keep listening.

Bishop Allen plays Holy Mountain Saturday night. Tickets available here.

About author
Bryan Parker is a writer and photographer living and working in Austin, TX. He is the founder of blog Pop Press International and print journal True Sincerity and recently released his first book, a volume on Beat Happening in the 33 1/3 series.

Pop Press International © 2018 All Rights Reserved

All photos licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Designed by WPSHOWER

Powered by WordPress