Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Bishop Allen - The 12 2006 EPs

Grade: A-

Click Click Click Click (from July)
Like Castanets (from September)
Corazon (from January)
Things Are What You Make Of Them (from Charm School)

The members of Brooklyn's Bishop Allen have giant, giant balls. Sure, their music is sometimes on the twee side, and they probably couldn't take you in a fight, but they decided in late 2005 that they would spend the next year not only playing their fun live shows, but recording an EP per month. These have each consisted of four new songs, with the exception of August, which was an entire live show at the Middle East in Cambridge, Massachusetts (only a couple blocks from Bishop Allen Drive, the band's namesake). Damn.

Bishop Allen consists of Justin Rice and Christian Rudder, with assorted friends thrown in for good measure. Their debut Charm School is one hell of a record, and for this reason, I was skeptical about the EP-a-month project. How would the rapid output match up against the polished, early Modest Mouse-like tracks on the LP? It turns out this wasn't an unsubstantiated worry. There are tracks for this project that sound like the toss-offs they are.

There are also intimate moments that work precisely because they are recorded quickly. "Like Castanets" is basically a postcard sung by Rice, a vivid picture of a seaside town at night. These songs fit their informal context, and keep the listener close. The best songs in the series, however, highlight the band's knack for clever arrangements. My favorite track over the 12 months is "Click Click Click Click," from July. It's a perfect slice of pure pop, a story about going to a wedding that starts with a quiet nylon-string guitar and builds to a driving, head-bopping confection. It all comes together in an instant, and it's exactly what you want a sweet pop song to be.

There are lots of other highlights - the poignant "Corazon," from January; the jangly "Tea For Two" from November - but you'll just have to discover them for yourself. The band significantly ups the ante on December, playing as if they have no choice but to end this series with a bang. "Last Chance America" is passionate garage rock, and "I Get Along" is a midtempo acoustic number that suddenly explodes into harmonized guitars and pounding drums. (It also, perhaps to reward those who have kept up with the EPs, quotes from February's "Vain.")

Rumor is that Bishop Allen is working on their next LP, the long-delayed Clementines. This is good news, but us fans may feel a sense of withdrawal once that record hits shelves. The problem with doing something impressive is that everything else will pale in comparison, but I have faith.
(David Brusie)


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