If we are to truly listen to the words of our leaders, then Bishop Allen’s third full-length record has no place in our new world. It’s not that the Brooklyn indie-pop duo’s interesting new disc, Grrr…, is a bad or boring record; it’s actually quite the contrary.
The dense layers of percussion combined with minimal strings and guitars on the 13 tracks create a wistful, concise album that is pleasing to listen to—just not right now. As Barack Obama famously proclaimed in his inaugural speech, “the time has come to put away childish things.”
Bishop Allen—which plays April 4 at the Music Hall of Williamsburg—is a ma ture enough band, but “childish things” refers to more than just the skill of its songwriting.
Singer/Keyboardist Justin Rice’s voice sounds childish at times, weaving playtime vocals—he exclaims “ollie ollie oxen free” in the first 20 seconds of the first track—around Christian Rudder’s cutesy, plucked string arrangements, but the record as a whole couldn’t have been made by immature, non-musicians (Times New Viking, I am looking at you). Grrr… is complex in its songwriting and arrangement, but the record still fits with our president’s definition of childish things.
The preconceived notion that anyone could get down to a song about “plucking the stars from the sky” is almost insulting. Am I taking our economic downturn too seriously and personally? Maybe, but I think a majority of the country is also. And that includes baristas and public university English majors and other potential buyers (or downloaders) of Bishop Allen’s latest.
It’s not that the band or its songs—in melody or in lyrical content—are pretentious.This band lives, through song, in a dream world that I cannot live in right now, so naturally I can’t get into this record. I’m too much of a realist, too cynical—too broke—to take this record seriously.
Songs like “The Lion and the Teacup” and “Shanghaied” sound like vacation hymns, full of marimba sounds, group vocals, jangly guitars and cool, crisp percussion. I just can’t feel for a “tragic little teacup” when 30 percent of my company has been laid off in the past six months.
And it’s not as if I need albums to sound paranoid and angry, like This Heat’s Deceit or The Wipers’ Youth of America, both steeped in Reagan-era nuclear war panic (although it wouldn’t hurt if all albums did), it’s just that this record fits in much better with early second-term Clinton, filed between the latest Magnetic Fields and Aislers Set albums.
While a new day may be upon us, I don’t really think it is quite time for Bishop Allen and Grrr… The album is uplifting in its whimsical melodies, but it’s almost a depressing album in that it shows us how things aren’t.
People can’t afford vacations from themselves and can’t afford to take literal vacations. Indie pop isn’t recession-proof, and Bishop Allen is the evidence.