Album Review: Bishop Allen – Grrr…

Remember when you used to play pirates in grade school on the jungle gym? Your homemade eye patch drew “gyarrrr”s from all the other pirate wannabes, your best friend was your first mate, and you made that girl you tried to kiss walk the plank? She never forgave you, did she? For a bilge rat such as yourself, Grrr… may be just the thing to relive your glory days. Bishop Allen‘s latest album provides just this: a fleet of rollicking, yaw tunes.

“Shangaied” will tell you nothing new about the world; unless, you’ve never heard a song with lyrics such as “La La La La La La La La La Shanghaied!” Our young hero it seems succumbs to forced conscription – or does he? I don’t care. It’s the “la”s and bawdy backing bunch of seadogs on the “Shanghaied”s that make this song way too catchy for its own good. I think the members of Bishop Allen had eye patches as kids too.

It’d be easy to tear apart this album and call it fluff or lightweight – and frankly, it is. Bishop Allen isn’t looking to make you rethink life, existence, and your sexual identity. They just want you to listen to a good record. One thing to know about this album: if you like Belle and Sebastian, you will like this album. It’s inevitable. If you don’t like B & S, well, you won’t like it. I just saved you fifteen bucks.

If you are the former, “True or False” with its horns and pixie vocals and ukulele-esque strings should send you into fits. The sugary sweet confection tastes great on stormy days. Even the album artwork is so deliriously adorable and whimsical – there’s eyes, nose, and whiskers on the “G” of Grrr – it is clear Bishop Allen has no problem with not being taken seriously. As indie music aficionados (you know who you are), we sometimes take ourselves too seriously. We deconstruct every lyric; debate the secret meaning of the album artwork; smoke cigarettes in our tight black jeans; and we do this while hoping the latest album by so-and-so will change our lives. It won’t.

Embrace superficial lyrics like “If I can’t seem to find you / Then you’ll stay alone” (on “Don’t Hide Away”). Revel in the glow of the “South China Moon”. Cheer on the “Rooftop Brawl”. This is no time to quibble over whether it’s morally right to listen to innocuous music.

For such a simple group of songs, the mixing and attention to detail is surprisingly good. You can tell they spent a wad trying to sound as indie as possible. The instrumentation is loose and varied, but it always serves the song. On “The Ancient Commonsense of Things”, the song starts with a simple drum setup and guitar swells, by the chorus there’s this, that, and the other in the mix without ever sounding like a new song. There isn’t a track here that sounds like it shouldn’t belong, yet each song doesn’t sound like a cutout of the one before it. In a phrase, Bishop Allen is the gold standard for indie pop this year.

I say all this with one caveat: Grrr…‘s indie pop might not stay fresh indefinitely. There is a shelf life for unreasonably sunny music. It’s instantly spinable and conversely a bit boring. Bishop Allen is above average in this regard, but eventually, the album will probably wear out its welcome for a while. You’ll put your eye patch away. The fake plastic parrot will go in the drawer – until enough time passes. You’ll eventually dust off this album, and pass off a double entendre to your girlfriend like, “Argh! Time to walk the plank!” as you gesture toward your pants. It’s cool. She’ll roll her eyes, and you can go back to listening to Grrr…, a simple and good group of songs.

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