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and rolling blast of Squeeze-might-be-giants pop that isn’t ashamed of a “little black ache” (or the boatload of rock-historical references it spearheads) but knows the quiet allure of a “queen in a bright sundress.”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.