[CD Review] Bishop Allen, 'Grrr . . .' (Dead Oceans)

Poor Bishop Allen. They were Vampire Weekend before Vampire Weekend was Vampire Weekend. Though they possess the same musical chops, intellectualized wordplay and ear for white-people-pleasing ditties, Bishop Allen have never caught fire (or received a subsequent backlash) like their fellow New York-based, Ivy League-educated indie rockers.

Still, it’s hard to feel too bad for the Harvard grads. Bishop Allen’s songs have been featured in prime-time commercials, they appeared on the Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist soundtrack, and member Justin Rice is a well-known actor in independent movies. Plus, their new album, Grrr . . ., isn’t half bad. While the previous release, 2007’s The Broken String, was hummable but sometimes overly sincere, the new work tries hard to be jauntier and less self-conscious. And for the most part, it succeeds, with rousing choruses and whimsical stories, not to mention inspired flourishes on a plethora of string and percussion instruments. Track highlights include “Cue the Elephants,” “Don’t Hide Away” and “The Lion & the Teacup,” the story of a forsaken lover seeking revenge.

Hopefully Grrr . . . will make Bishop Allen widely popular, and, as with Vampire Weekend, music critics will unleash an avalanche of reactionary criticism. It’s the least they could do.

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