The first time I stumbled upon Bishop Allen was in the film Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist. They were the band that Michael Cera’s character’s band The Jerkoffs (which was later renamed A Fist Full of Assholes) opened for near the beginning of the film. I originally thought that the band was invented by the script writers for the sake of a plot-line. It was only when I was listening to a BRIP indie rock playlist that I discovered that they were in fact a real band, had just released a new single and were preparing to release a new album.
The single in question also happens to be the opening song of Bishop Allen’s new album Lights Out. “Start Again” aptly kicks everything off with a jangly guitar riff backed by some upbeat synth beats. It sets the tone of the album, being mellow yet upbeat indie rock with a spattering of indie pop. Despite Bishop Allen playing into one of the most clichéd genres possible, they manage to make it work for them. Armed with twangy guitar riffs, mellow drumming and twinkly synth tones, they create aural landscapes that, if you tried hard enough, you could picture fairy-like creatures dancing about in.
From the upbeat energy of “Start Again”, the band progresses into the equally upbeat “Why I Had To” with twangy guitar riffs and the dreamy vocals of Justin Rice, who casually sings about the reason why he had to leave somebody due to the failings within the relationship. The entire song is anchored by a singular bass line and this is a constant force on the rest of the album. This is evident in the next track “Crows”, which adopts the same upbeat bass line that anchors its shimmering nature. The song comes into its finest when it enters a piece that seems to take enormous influence from traditional African music with the sound of African drums in the background. “Crows” also demonstrates one of Bishop Allen’s strong points – their songwriting. Lyrics like “Say you’re alone gathering your bones/ and you find your field/ like a crow on the battlefield” amaze me even after repeated listens.
“No Show”, with its mash-up of indie-rock/folk, allows Rice to once again deliver brilliant lyrics about breaking up with somebody while being accompanied by a tune that still manages to make the song sound happy while the lyrics have a sombre nature to them. It sort of puts me in the mind of a much more energetic Airborne Toxic Event. “Black Hole” sees Rice’s fellow band member Darbie Nowatka provide vocal duties on the song, as she delivers a lyric that would be loved by Star Wars fans all-over: “Dreaming of the death star / looking down from above” – or maybe I am the only one who loves that reference.
The rest of Lights Out continues in a similar fashion of delivering upbeat indie rock songs that are peppered with melancholic lyrics, which you only notice if you listen really closely. The entire album is rich with vivid, yet obscure imagery such as “the first in the line of the devil’s sentries” within “Skeleton Key” and numerous other lyrics which allude to unique themes. This all just makes the album even better. They use a clichéd genre, yet they see fit to use that genre to their advantage by weaving delicate lyrics rife with unique imagery. You think you’re listening to a happy song but then you listen closely and you have lyrics that make The Smiths look happy. It is this kind of bait-and-switch trick that makes the band so brilliant. For a band that stopped creating music for close to six years, Bishop Allen has come back stronger than ever and they seem to be set on reviving the indie rock genre back to its original upbeat yet melancholic nature.