4 out of 5 stars
Comprised of two Harvard grads and an ever-changing mix of collaborators, Bishop Allen has been creating addictive indie-folk since its formation in 2003. The band’s success seems to increase with every release, and with its music appearing in TV shows like ABC’s “Greek” and in the 2008 film “Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist,” the band has seen a major boost recently.
Bishop Allen’s latest studio effort Grr… is the band’s third studio release. On the whole, it’s a quiet, relaxing LP more suited for passive than active listening, but the band throws in a few punchy songs that give the record variety and praiseworthiness.
“Don’t Hide Away” is the most fetching song on the album, which is quite a feat considering the record’s consistent level of addictiveness. It begins with piano and, compellingly enough, maracas. The piano chords are unusually rhythmic, keeping perfect time with the drumbeat as a tape organ-sounding keyboard plays in the background. During the chorus, vocalist Justin Rice sings, “Don’t hide away / too high or low / I’d really like to see you / don’t you know” to a background of beat-matching, syllabic chanting.
“Cue the Elephants” showcases Grr…’s more rambunctious side. Guitarist Christian Rudder uses a tremolo technique at the beginning of the song before diving into rapid strumming during the verse. The drumming sounds like a ticking clock awaiting the cue for the impending elephants the title promises. Then the song breaks into a smooth, flowing chorus and it’s as if the cue sounded. The song’s intensity climbs with a powerful drum-fill near its close before the track finishes abruptly.
Most of the songs on Grr… are charismatic compositions, but “Shanghaied” is by far the most intriguing. Although its title conjures stereotypical images of kung-fu or China, the song itself embodies more of an Old-West feel with its country-western influenced guitars. As the verse gets going, the guitars take on a Spanish flavor, and the drums sound like hooves pounding upon compacting sand. The chorus is incredibly twee-poppy, with Rice singing “la” after “la” in a bouncy, upbeat manner.
“True or False” is the strongest deviation from the rest of the album, if only for the fact that the band’s friend Darbie Nowatka sings the majority of the song. Rice’s vocals, while fitting to Bishop Allen’s indie-folk-rock sound, aren’t always the most intriguing, and the female voice is a welcome change. Rudder’s use of arpeggios and damping on an acoustic guitar, along with excited horns, creates a slightly tropical feel that hints of summer and beaches, teasing any Michigan college student who might hear the track.
“The Magpie,” the final song on the album, is an eerie lullaby, and Rice’s use of end rhyme contributes to the nursery-song feeling. He whispers rather than sings, but the instrumentation — a quiet accordion and xylophone in the background of more standard guitar sounds — prevents the listener from falling asleep, lulling them instead into a state of blissful relaxation. It’s the perfect end to an album chock-full of delightful tunes.