Bishop Allen have benefited tremendously from a nebulous hiatus—the band that released an EP every month in 2006, for a start, has finally come back to life after a five-year sleep to release Lights Out on Dead Oceans.
Despite hailing from Brooklyn, Lights Out has a heavy west-coast indie vibe. Particularly on subtle but energetic tracks like “Skeleton Key”, the band holds much common ground with the likes of The New Pornographers and Death Cab For Cutie. It doesn’t hurt that Bishop Allen’s latest gestation period has helped craft a perfectly early-2000s pop record—instruments flourish in and out of the woodwork in that casual way that takes a lot more effort than is readily apparent to nail.
The two men behind the creative helm, Justin Rice and Christian Rudder, share a talent for picking up exactly the right musicians for the task at hand: while Lights Out was recorded with a core group of five, the record feels as orchestrated as Kevin Drew’s lineup-tinkering behind Broken Social Scene. Admittedly, the same kind of experimentation and genre-bending is most definitely absent behind Bishop Allen’s latest—it plays itself about as straight as an indie pop record can without veering off into samples-and-drum-machines territory, and that’s totally alright. Every instrumental eccentricity (like the raindrop-like drumming on “Hammer and Nail”) feels totally fresh and intelligently placed, especially when the vocal duties are handed to keyboardist Darbie Rice (“Black Hole”). An exceptional guitar chorus on “No Condition” briefly pulls the band out of summer-pop territory, a hole that they’ve dug almost exclusively out of their smooth vocal stylings and a tendency to end songs on a fade-out.
Lights Out owes a lot more to Twin Cinema than it does to any of its New York contemporaries. Even the mellow ukelele fader “Shadow”, by far the weakest song on the record, serves its purpose, closing out a varied and intellectual record with an offbeat, off-guard acoustic ode. While its first half is much stronger than its last, thanks mostly to a fantastic presence of energy and some beautiful bass lines, that’s no reason not to finish the whole thing in a single sitting. Despite being encased firmly within the indie-pop bounding box, Lights Out makes a strong case towards the revival of indie’s heyday, where smart songwriters won out over summer blockbusters.