From the first lonesome strum to the final handclap-fueled sing-along, Bishop Allen‘s The Broken String twists my stomach in a giddy knot and sends my head floating away with its light-as-air hooks.
Since teaching themselves the art of positive energy on Charm School, their self-released 2003 debut, Bishop Allen have been the authors of a happy-go-lucky do-it-yourself success story. In 2006 they followed up Charm School with 12 four-song EPs, one for each month of the year. With no label behind them, they sold these discs at shows and online, getting by with each ticket sold or mouse button clicked.
The long and winding road to success: Bishop Allen push themselves to new heights with The Broken String.
For anyone who’s heard the EPs, The Broken String is like a premature greatest hits album. It compiles nine of the best EP songs and debuts three new numbers. Having proved they can do it on their own, Bishop Allen opted to record the songs anew and release the album on Dead Oceans, a sister label of former Charlottesville-based imprint Jagjaguwar.
Opening track "The Monitor" is an imaginative tale that juxtaposes the clanging violence of Civil War ironclads with the relative frivolity of the band’s pop tunes. Justin Rice sings, "When I break another string and continue to sing, is that courage? I’m not sure," later adding, "We’re singing la-di-di-da-da-da-da, but what then?"
|Take a Listen to "Rain" from Bishop Allen‘s The Broken String.
"Rain," which follows, is the perfect response. An anthem for getting through hard times, it embodies just the kind of spark that gives pop music meaning. "Oh, let the rain fall down and wash this world away," sings Rice, "’cause if it’s ever gonna get any better, it’s gotta get worse for a day." The tune is better than a pair of rose-tinted glasses.
It’s such optimism that lets The Broken String soar. Whether singing about a nerve-wracking bus ride ("The Chinatown Bus") or an orphaned piano ("Corazon"), Rice creates an uplifting swirl. Serious life questions emerge, but melodies whisk them away and Bishop Allen sails on.
But it’s not all sunshine jingles. The band straight up rocks on "Middle Management," (though it’s probably the weakest track) and "Butterfly Nets," sung by Darby Nowatka, is a delicate, xylophone-sprinkled tune reminiscent of Velvet Underground’s "After Hours."
Not too shabby for a sophomore effort and the band’s first "proper" release. Who knows the heights that Bishop Allen may reach when they get that string fixed.