Bishop Allen’s “Lights Out” Is Smart Indie Pop-Rock

19 Aug

Bishop Allen has been one of my favorite indie bands since the release of The Broken String in 2007. The band is known for catchy indie pop-rock melodies with smart lyrics, and the 12-song set offered by Lights Out is no exception.

As I’ve mentioned previously, lest you think there’s a dude named Bishop Allen in the band, permit me to explain. Bishop Allen was formed by Harvard grads, Justin Rice and Christian Rudder, in 2003 when they lived on Bishop Allen Drive in Cambridge, Massachusetts. So, no Mr. Allen.

But the Harvard pedigree is as important to Bishop Allen’s identity as another Ivy League institution, Columbia, is to Vampire Weekend’s. In both instances, the bands’ lyrically inspired songs are smart, sharp and thoughtful — with melodies and arrangements that are a perfect fit. That’s not to say that Bishop Allen sounds like Vampire Weekend. But there’s a similar feeling to the tightness and intelligence of the songs.

In Lights Out, we find Bishop Allen growing a bit older and examining topics that have to do with leaving youth behind and exploring what the future may bring. After all, the band members have already been to their 10-year reunions. Bishop Allen is also evolving musically to incorporate the synthesizer more often into the mix. To my ears, everything works very well!

The first track, “Start Again,” has been available since early summer as a digital single. That was perfect timing because its bright and bubbly synth-and-guitar pop goodness perfectly captures the feeling of summer. The next track, “Why I Had to Go” is another hook-y tune. In it, Rice reminisces about the past and examines why he’s had to leave old experiences and relationships behind.

One of my favorite songs on Lights Out is “Good Talk.” It starts as a simple guitar-driven pop-rock song. But when it reaches the chorus it builds through chord progressions and perfect harmonies into a song that will have you humming the melody long after it’s over.

“No Conditions” is more introspective. It begins with almost spoken vocals, before evolving into another power pop anthem. But it gets right to the heart of the matter with lyrics such as, “No answer from the doctor/No, not the one you were after/Every test could be wrong/Then again, every test could be right/No way to be certain/There’s no one behind the curtain/And clicking your heels/No matter how good it feels/It won’t bring you back home.”

These are situations that are simply part of life. And while they may cause one to look longingly toward the carefree days of youth, these experiences also define who we are to become. Bishop Allen has captured that wistfulness of one foot in the past and one foot in the future on this album.

No review of the band would be complete without a mention of Darbie Nowatka, Rice’s wife and a long-time Bishop Allen member. The versatile, multi-talented artist gets the lead vocals not once, but twice on “Black Hole” and “Shadow.” And as usual, she creates warm, glowing landscapes that on “Shadow” in particular, could have been penned by Randy Newman.

Bottom line — while Bishop Allen may be viewing life now with the Lights On, what they find still looks pretty good.


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