The first thing I knew about Bishop Allen when I heard about them back in 2004 was that they were a pair of Harvard graduates. Immediately I assumed that meant the two wrote vocab-complicated scholar rock much akin to Colin Meloy (see: the Decemberists) or John Roderick (see: the Long Winters). I was wrong.
Not that Justin Rice and Christian Rudder aren’t smart guys, or that their upcoming release Grrr… doesn’t have a fairly impressive G.K. Chesterton reference (see: “The Ancient Commonsense of Things”), it’s just that their music is kind of…well – like fun dip.
Yes, seriously. Bishop Allen make some catchy as hell indie-pop that is delivered in a sugary sweet package. I mean, look at that album cover, it’s colorful and playful and title Grrr… is in reference to the running animal theme throughout the album.
At first, you’re all about this. Songs like opening track “Dimmer”, album standout “Oklahoma”, and previously mentioned “The Ancient Commonsense of Things” are chipper and upbeat, have cutesy lyrics and some well-placed xylophone. But much like fun dip this record only has three flavors: the aforementioned upbeat and catchy, the mildly slower and catchy (“Tiger, Tiger” and “Cue the Elephants”), and the bad (almost everything else).
Also like fun dip, when you first get into this record you think “this is the best thing ever!” and then you realize, “wait a second – this is all I get? It’s just a bunch of sugar?” And then your tongue starts to bleed. See what I’m saying?
Okay, overplayed metaphor aside here’s the deal: some of the songs on this album are so good that you should add them to your “biking to class” playlist. But some of the songs on here fall so flat that at times I wonder if this was a children’s album that went horribly awry.