There can be any number of ways a band might arrive at the front door of a newly finished, studio album. Where one group might prefer to prepare a handful of signature tunes to rehearse and record the hell out of, another might take a more round about way to arrive at the material. Slide Boston born/Brooklyn bred band, Bishop Allen, into the latter…though their ’06 EP project was more of a scattering in every which direction than a brief detour. But, as it turns out, the relentless release schedule was more than just a prolific project to keep the band going. It was the search for an immaculate follow-up to their hooky, pop gem of a debut, Charm School. Witling fifty-eight songs down to a handful (and adding a few previously unreleased tracks), The Broken String (Dead Oceans) colors in the year-long project’s lo-fi scribblings with fully detailed arrangement and vivid production. It also reveals why so many have gravitated towards the band over the course of their career.
Like Colin Maloy and James Mercer, Bishop Allen’s Justin Rice and Christian Rudder inhabit their music with both the personal and fictitious…though it is sometimes difficult to decipher one from the other. Tack a literate, descriptive habit of skirting the listener into the same places Bishop Allen find their muse hiding in, and The Broken String plays like an endearing, personal, one on one story telling session. If you find yourself lost in a vivid, Chilean daydream while “Like Castanets” plays, it is because the band takes you there with muted trumpet, flamenco guitar, offbeat rolling snare slaps, and lines like “I’m following the coffee trail. I drink it cheap and by the bail. The pesos turn to paper cups. My fingers tremble at the touch. Like castanets.” That young girl poking around a breezy, blooming wildflower field, butterfly net carefully cocked, waiting to capture her dainty prey? That’s newcomer Darbie Nowatka singing the petite bedtime ballad “Butterfly Nets”. “Click Click Click Click” tells the tale of a whimsical wedding crash to the tune of the pluck, pluck, pluck, pluck, of a nylon stringed guitar, a gooey bass line, the perfect pop beat, and hints of glockenspiel and wood blocks. And never mind the uncomfortable rumble under your feet. Just clutch the hand rest, sink back into your seat, and enjoy the wild ride up 95 “Chinatown Bus” takes you on.
A little adventure, a little self-reflection, a little history, and a little love – The Broken String hides it all within its’ 12 songs. And best yet, listeners can expect the exotic pop the band perfect with unique instrumentation, solid composition, and well written lyrics to age well. Bishop Allen could have released three albums this year. Instead, they released one of the summer’s best. I suppose that is just the kind of thing that happens when a band sifts through the sonic sand to find their very best material. Ryan Adams, take note… - David Pitz