Monday, March 16, 2009

But...How Could A Band So Cuddly Be So Mediocre?


[Contributing writer Deanna McLafferty reviews Bishop Allen's latest album, Grrr...]

Last year, Bishop Allen made a cameo in the indie-love story Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, which is fitting since the band share many characteristics with its star, Michael Cera. Sure, it was cool to like Cera during the Arrested Development days. But now, after Superbad, Juno, all the overexposure, and then Nick and Norah, Cera is so five minutes ago. Plus, both the band and Cera have that look-at-me-be-cute thing going on.

Bishop Allen should have seized their moment in the spotlight and made a defining record. Instead, they pulled back the reigns and made a decidedly average one. There’s a noticeable lack of energy this time around. No more hammering beats or collective yells, like in “Middle Management.” No suspenseful build-up, as in “The Monitor.”

The youthful themes grow old quickly. The songs are filled with hand claps and half the songs have allusions to animals in their lyrics and/or titles. Attempting to be meaningful by being childish and ironic is charming at first, and was in their first two efforts, but it’s worn out its welcome. If you decide to make an album sound like a playground, you have to make sure you have fun doing it. Most of the album feels contrived, and less spontaneous than previous work.

Read the rest of Deanna's review after the jump.

There are some definite steps forward, however. The instrumentation is more layered in many songs, and it’s obvious they did some more experimenting in the studio. Ironically, the first song “Dimmer” is one of the bright spots on the album. If confronts real doubt and fear in a light-hearted way. “Olly olly oxen free, can you see me?” Justin Rice sings in the chorus. In addition, “Cue the Elephants” has enough energy to ride it all the way through.

“True or False” also stands out among the 13 tracks. However, that could just be because the female vocals mix it up a little. The album demands many listens to find lines or melodies that pay off. Otherwise, there isn’t much variety and it’s sometimes hard to recognize when the next song has begun.

If there’s anything I could tell the band it’s that the quiet yet witty act only gets you so far. They can pass the message along to Michael Cera.

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