Bishop Allen seems like they’d be a lot of fun to see live. The duo would be performing in a park somewhere, it would be summertime and the sun would be shining bright when their set started, fading into sunset as they approached their encore. Good looking people would be in their summer clothes, dancing without a care in the world, smiling ear to ear and putting back a few cold ones to keep refreshed on a hot day. The whole thing would kind of go down like the cover for Lights Out, their first new album in five years, which does an uncannily good job describing the contents within. Whoever designed the cover deserves a lot of credit here. Kudos to you, sir or ma’am.
With all that positivity out on the table, it is time to get a little real here. While the songs on Lights Out would certainly suit a fine live atmosphere, their simplicity, repetition and generic nature create a rather weak album that fails to hold its own in today’s complicated indie rock landscape. Bishop Allen seems to be continuing a lot of trends on here that were very cool around their own mid-2000s inception: happy, indie guitar rock at its most basic level. It’s easy to see the band’s fans’ reasoning for having gotten into their sound around that same time—people who dug the Shins and Death Cab For Cutie, but found them a little self indulgent and sad. “I just want to dance and have a good time,” this theoretical Bishop Allen superfan would say to justify their love of the band. It would not be a dissimilar conversation to one you may have with a friend who really loved generic EDM in the early 2010s. They’re not wrong, they’re actually very justified in their simplistic stance, but it’s an opinion that is nonetheless one dimensional. It would be one thing if Lights Out played it safe resting on the laurels of indie rock’s comfy stature, but the fact that after five years they’re still seemingly apprehensive to attempt to break out of their shell, afraid to leave their mid-aughties summery indie pop heyday behind says it all, and makes this album feel pretty unnecessary.
Start Again, the album’s lead single, is far and away its best track. When it came out back in June, there was so much promise going forward for Bishop Allen. If every song was as infectious as Start Again it would’ve been hard to deny Bishop Allen their place in the indie spotlight. However, it doesn’t take some music industry know-it-all to realize that tune has something very special that the rest of the album falls short on. No doubt, this album has its fair share of worthy tricks. They do that thing where the song starts slow and then gets fast (No Conditions), they utilize some funky guitars (Good Talk), sometimes those guitars even do little, cool, Caribbean sounding things (Crows) and sometimes they play big, honky lead riffs (No Show). But the mediocre execution of these concepts would be expected from an above average local rock band, not a group at the caliber of Bishop Allen.
Why I Had To Go may be the biggest offender of them all, a tune that features one of the most annoying synth tones I’ve ever heard playing a melody that comes across as a poor excuse for what somebody thought was “catchy” over vocalist Justin Rice’s worst performance on the album. The song is a mess, and placing it second on the album kills all the momentum put forth by Start Again in a matter of seconds.
At the end of the day, Bishop Allen are just as fun as they were a decade ago, but as fewer and fewer people show up to their party, they’ve failed to take the necessary steps to win them back and really have not done anything to target new groups of fans either. Lights Out is dance-inducing enough, so it’s a little ironic that it feels like Bishop Allen has continued to sit still in the same place they’ve always been.