Bishop Allen: Lights Out

At their best, Bishop Allen develop a time and a place through memorable hooks and high craft, but they just can't sustain it for the whole album.

Bishop Allen

Lights Out

Label: Dead Oceans
US Release Date: 2014-08-19
UK Release Date: 2014-08-18

Bishop Allen might have boosted their career with a stunt -- releasing an EP a month for a year in 2006 -- but by the time they pulled together their second full-length and Dead Oceans debut Bishop Allen & the Broken String they'd become a convincing indie-pop act. Founders Justin Rice and Christian Rudder were writing smart, catchy songs (so, fulfilling genre duties) with noteworthy aplomb and careful arranging. If Grrr... was a step down, it did like infectious capability, but it might have sacrificed a little personality in its twee. Rice and Rudder were careful in their sound and effective, but without the year of build-up and the energy residing in the previous album's long work on many songs, something just didn't click.

Now, five years later, the band's back to sneak in their latest album Lights Out just before summer's end, a fine time to play it even as road trip season winds down. When the album opens with a guitar hook that forecasts a movie trailer of young people running near a beach too cold to swim in while a twentysomething narrator says meaningful things, keep going. “Start Again” has all the bounce and brightness that the band can do so well while keeping the heart in it. The song's on the cusp of something yet undetermined. There's hope, but there's a feint at being realistic. The split, of course, suggests the internal openness of the narrator, and the probable success of romantic venture, heightened by knowledge of the slim possibility of failure.

All of which makes “Why I Had to Go” an unlikely but effective succeeding track. The “pretty song of leaving” staple of the genre appears here with all the verve of the album's opener, but with the dimming of the evening. The song pairing fixes the music at a certain age, when you share blankets with people you leave and are just figuring out how late to stay out before it matters how late you can stay out. The two songs nearly encapsulate that era and as a bittersweet glance back or a fancy of an imaginary future, they work well.

After that, the album drops off a little. It doesn't falter, but it's never as inescapable again. Closer “Shadow”, sung by Darbie Rice, makes for a gentle good-night as the evening winds down. It's pleasant and innocuous, but not enough. It plays more like an interlude than an end, and maybe suffers from its sequencing. There's something precious about it that doesn't work, even if the context of knowingly charming album.

Otherwise, the missteps are pretty few (“Hammer and Nail” makes for some sterile rock). Songs like like “Skeleton Key” and “Bread Crumbs” build breezy grooves around plump bass parts. “Give it Back” provides more drive while hinting just a bit a new wave, showing the band's flexibility within their sound, and “Black Hole” gives Darbie Rice a better showcase. On the upside, even at their worst, Bishop Allen write good pop songs, ideally for one last summer's drive.


So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.