2006 was a big year for Bishop Allen. The band recorded and self-released an EP every month of the year. Fifty-eight songs later, they completed one of the most ambitious recording projects in recent memory. Their 2003 debut, Charm School, was a hooky indie-pop gem, but Bishop Allen’s EP material proves far more sophisticated and addictive. With the EPs, Bishop Allen’s pop smarts sound timeless, escaping the indie-pop idiom and revealing a language informed by the Kinks, Dylan, and the Zombies. While it was in motion, the EP-a-month project was the toast of the blogosphere, but it wasn’t just an online phenomenon; it garnered the band attention everywhere from the Wall Street Journal to NPR’s Song of the Day. This adulation all happened without the benefit of a record label or publicist. Bishop Allen was truly DIY, recording and releasing their own records and booking their own tours.
But it was never Bishop Allen’s intent to forgo a label for the long term, and in early 2007 the band struck a partnership with Dead Oceans. The first fruit of this relationship is Bishop Allen’s sophomore album, The Broken String. If Bishop Allen made a huge musical jump from the 2003 debut to the 2006 EPs, the band made a quantum leap on The Broken String. Of its 12 songs, 9 are reworked tracks from the EPs and two are previously unreleased. These are not just re-recordings: Bishop Allen has stepped out of the home studio and created definitive versions of songs that were originally conceived within the constraints of a monthly deadline. Benefiting from the earlier recordings and several tours, the songs’ arrangements have grown, the production is lush, the lyrics are front and center, and the band’s evolution has reached a new level. If Ed Sullivan were alive today, Bishop Allen’s story-songs would be ripe for prime time. The Broken String is the follow-up for which Bishop Allen fans have long clamored.
Bishop Allen has always been the musical venture of Harvard grads Justin Rice and Christian Rudder, along with an ever-rotating cast of musical collaborators. Originating in Boston, the band spent the past four years in Brooklyn, NY, where they cemented the current incarnation of the band, including drummer Cully Symington and vocalist/percussionist Darbie Nowatka, plus a long list of multi-instrumentalist collaborators. Outside of their impressive musical achievements in Bishop Allen, both Rudder and Rice are accomplished actors. Rice starred in the wildly successful Andrew Bujalski-directed independent film, Mutual Appreciation, while Rudder starred in Bujalski’s prior work, Funny Ha Ha.
The Broken String is not just a great record by Bishop Allen standards. It is poised to be the pop soundtrack to the summer of 2007.