Bishop Allen, known for an ambitious EP project that produced 12 DIY EPs within a year finally hit the studio hard with a multi-instrumental supporting cast and a well-produced and clean sound for their second LP, Bishop Allen and the Broken String. The Brooklyn-based duo (Christian Rudder and Justin Rice) has graduated from their humbler beginnings of homespun record engineering with a well-layered project that ebulliently flows of nostalgia while effortlessly meandering through several styles.
The nostalgia begins with the trope-like Civil War ode to the ironclad warship in the opening track “The Monitor.” A soft acoustic guitar accompaniment underscores the piece as layer by layer it surges forward without inhibiting the lyrics' narrative tone while we're introduced to the somewhat out-of-tune piano that is ubiquitous throughout the album.
In the midst of the nostalgic mutterings, The Broken String is consistent with stylistic changes from song to song. From the pop-sounding “Rain” to the Latin soundscape of “Like Castanets,” Bishop Allen doesn’t disappoint those with an overly needy attention span. Especially invigorating is the humorous post-punk romp “The News from Your Bed.” In this track the “rescued” piano, so prevalent throughout the album, gets its due with an encore performance by anthropomorphically plunking out some chunky Muppet Show-sounding chords. Meanwhile, a banjo scrapes along while the woody tones of a bass clarinet fill in and the vocals sing-speak about a reclusive anti-socialite who talks to the cat and just cannot leave home despite looking “gorgeous in your evening gown.”
For the die-hard fans of Bishop Allen, this LP is an ambivalent departure. On one hand, its production is a far cry from the “guerilla” music-making of Charm School, the Allens’ first LP (recorded in a bedroom using crafty drum loops to disguise a non-existent drummer). The upped production value and the addition of multi-layered instrumentation may upset the purist of the original DIY music-making venture. On the other hand, with an expanded palette of instrumental sounds (including the rescued piano found dead on the side of the road that is said to inspire the track “Corazon”), and sonic expansiveness from the studio, it may be just what the fans want: finally, Bishop Allen, capitalize on their songwriting craftsmanship with a great supporting cast. The Broken String is a watershed album for Bishop Allen and has enough hooks to hook the first-time listener and enough originality to satiate the long-time fan.