feeling so refined
by Sean
Please note: MP3s are only kept online for a short time, and if this entry is from more than a couple of weeks ago, the music probably won't be available to download any more.


Bishop Allen are from Brooklyn and they're the best guitar pop band in the world. Probably.

Maybe that's an overblown thing to say, but when I listen to "Busted Heart" or "Little Black Ache" (free downloads on their website!!!), the truth of it resonates strongly. Here's glee, hooks and a casual musical panache - surprising turns of guitar on "Little Black Ache," three songs worth of choruses on "Busted Heart". These are songs that knock me down and pick me right back up. Unlike the New Pornographers their genius is understated, part of a simple easy pleasure. It doesn't intrude. But when you perk up your ears, when you pay attention, all sorts of brilliant flourishes shine through, all sorts of inspiration and magic come whirling out from the magnets. What the finest pop bands do so well - The Strokes, The Beatles, and to a lesser extent Pavement/late VU/Belle & Sebastian - is make wonderful songs sound easy. There's no huffing and puffing in "Last Nite" or "I Want to Hold Your Hand"; it flows like gold bullion from an endless source, something natural and glorious and rich. When our cup overfloweth with good pop songs, it's easy to take things for granted. But if we're hunting for new veins (same as the old veins), Bishop Allen are like the Northwest Territories. Or Botswana. Or somewhere else that's ripe for exploiting.

And did I mention that they're catchy?

Charm School is wonderful without comment. But that won't stop me. Rolling Stone gave it four stars. NPR called it "vibrant, vivid and refreshingly different". Newsweek compared it to Bright Eyes (?!??!?). It's not a "sounds like" record, but there are endless flashes of the familiar, mixed into something new and catchy and live: REM, Tigermilk, Spoon, the Go-Betweens, Buddy Holly, the Lucksmiths, Jonathan Richman, The Shins, Modest Mouse, The Pixies, The Kinks, Wilco, Built to Spill (and on and on). It's not the sound of a band at its peak - it's the sound of a band that has bought a shiny chrome engine, that has stocked the holds with brightcoloured cans, and that is prepared to stay airborne for the rest of its collective lifetime.

So you must listen to "Little Black Ache": it has jangling guitars, oblique-coherent lyrics, yelled vocals in the back, a girl who agrees wholeheartedly. It's got that little blossom of guitar that comes just before the chorus. It's got a depression that's sorta personified, that's dancing with Snoopy at the sock-hop.

So you must listen to "Busted Heart": it starts like a Modest Mouse b-side, but then in comes the sparkly summertime artillery, a jumbled happy-growling chorus. Then the bridge - it lulls, it rocks, it tips back and then reaches high high high.

And yes, you should listen to

Bishop Allen - "Coupla Easy Things". This is the band at its most twee, a creaking swaying boy-girl thing that's hipper but not too distant from "I'm Sticking With You". It wants very much to be liked. It's shrugging in the kitchen and eyeing the phone uneasily. "Telephone turn on sunshine / When it sends you the right voice." The drums nod like a friend who's waiting in the living room. A guitar plays idly, briefly telling its own story. Hot air through a window. A lightbulb flickers and turns off. And maybe, yes maybe, they will indeed sing you to sleep.



a new favourite blog: Fat Planet (legal international downloads)

The LiveJournal of Zachary Marsh (for moorcock fans).

Posted by Sean at June 22, 2004 11:56 PM


They Must Listen indeed.

Bishop Allen are fantastic.

Posted by Keith at June 23, 2004 12:06 AM

please... pleeeease don't put the strokes over pavement.

Posted by george at June 23, 2004 12:31 AM

As strict "pop" bands, the Strokes are absolutely superior than Pavement. They're catchier. Pavement are crazed, mentalist, innovative, weird. A monstrously talented act. But cast in point, their poppiest song - "Carrot Rope" - is also their most maligned.

Posted by Sean at June 23, 2004 12:36 AM

i was gonna post some BA but I thought you already had, or perhaps it was Fluxblog. Either way I just wanted to let you know (in case you didn't) that while watching the move Saved a couple weeks ago I was quite surprised to hear a Bishop Allen song in the movie.

Posted by esco at June 23, 2004 4:12 AM

It really is too bad that they lost the girl backup signer. The band isn't the same without her.

Posted by matt at June 23, 2004 9:49 AM

Oh wow, these guys are GOOD.

Posted by tim at June 23, 2004 11:18 AM

After seeing them last night for the first time, I'd say that Wilko are the best guitar pop band in the world, bar none but I shall download this stuff to double check. Jeff began the show by saying. 'The new album's out in the US today. That's why we're here.'

They were playing Birmingham UK.

Posted by Dymbel at June 23, 2004 11:51 AM

i'm torn with bishop allen. they have every bit of talent they need to be an awesome band, but they just don't seem to be able to get modest mouse out of their heads. it's a tired thing to say, but this is defintely a band that needs to find it's own identity. as it is, they don't really give me anything i can't get somewhere else.

Posted by Hambone at June 23, 2004 1:31 PM

the girl's left, matt? sad day!

and Hambone, have you heard them live or on record? I've only heard the latter, and I don't hear much Modest Mouse at all... closer to early rock'n'roll and 90s alt-pop...

Dymbel - you're the straw that broke the camel's back; I'll definitely pony up to see them in August, then.

Posted by Sean at June 23, 2004 5:26 PM

i've only heard the tracks they have at their site. it's just the guitar harmonics and the groovy guitar lines and the vocals... THE VOCALS! very isaac brock. maybe it's just me.

Posted by hambone at June 23, 2004 8:10 PM

Catbirdseat talked about them last year and prompted me to pick up the album. It really is great. But don't listen to the NPR interview -- it almost made me put away the CD for good. Not because of them -- they were fine -- it was Scott Simon's whole "so you went to Harvard" thing. One of the most pandering, elitist things I've heard from NPR in a while.

Posted by Mike at June 23, 2004 9:26 PM

I really like Bishop Allen. It is interesting and almost harkens back to a more simpler 50's ish rock (see the call and answer chorus on little black ache). And it is upbeat alternative; always a plus.

Posted by stretch at June 24, 2004 12:22 AM

the bishop allen song "little black ache" is really quite nice. not too modest mouse to my ears - the vocals aren't a million miles away, but the music has far too much of the other bands you mention - spoon and lucksmiths are the strongest to my ears - for modest mouse comparisons.


Posted by tim at June 24, 2004 11:33 AM

Yes the girls have left - HOWEVER, the current line-up live blows away the band on the record. I caught them in Portland, ME and they were amazing. A little louder, tighter and more energetic. Great, strange stage presence. If there is any justice they will be huge.

Posted by Erik at June 26, 2004 12:32 PM

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This is a daily sampler of really good songs. All tracks are posted out of love. Please go out and buy the records.

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Sean Michaels is the founder of Said the Gramophone. He is a writer, critic and author of the theremin novel Us Conductors. Follow him on Twitter or reach him by email here. Click here to browse his posts.

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