A friend got a ride back to New York from Pittsburgh earlier this year with nattily dressed local pop-rockers Bishop Allen. (Full disclosure: This meant I didn’t have to go pick him up.) The van’s weary gears ground to a halt immediately after making it through the shoulder-less Holland Tunnel. That sense of near disaster suffuses Bishop Allen’s self-released debut Charm School, a good-natured, alternately rocking and rolling blast of Squeeze-might-be-giants pop that isn’t ashamed of a “little black ache” (or the boatload of rock-historical references it spearheads) but knows the quiet allure of a “queen in a bright sundress.”
Nerds to the core, they’re a great complement to rabid NYC cool-hunting: For every gnarled Modest Mouse riff like the one in “Busted Heart” there’s a musty “Never My Love” lick like in “Things Are What You Make of Them.” “Ghosts are good company,” they admit like good retro-rockers, but one song later they’re falling into a drama-kid orchestra pit of Lite Brite twinkles. They threaten to veer off the rails throughout—runaway guitar chatter in the title track, scenester logorrhea in “Eve of Destruction,” dime-store rockabilly twang in “Penitentiary Bound”—yet squeak by with a last gasp of cherry tears. Angry motorists would hate them.
Bishop Allen play the Bowery Ballroom September 16.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on September 9, 2003