The Broken String
Dead Oceans Records
4 out of 5
By Bob Hartzer
Bishop Allens’ second full-length release, Bishop Allen & The Broken String, is a pretty indie-pop album. Those familiar with the band may have heard about their ambitious EP project, wherein they released an EP for every month of the year in 2006. This album is a return to the LP format and is very well put together. The bands Myspace page describes, perhaps in jest, their sound as an oatmeal cookie. Well, they are not far off. To be quite honest, there is not a bad song on the record. The album is a somewhat formulaic indie-pop album, with pretty lyrics set to pretty music.
This is most certainly not a bad thing, but if you are looking for a sound with some gristle to chew on, &The Broken String is not your best bet. The album opens with ‘The Monitor’, which achieves a very full, majestic sound. It begins softly with acoustic guitar and the band slowly comes in, one by one, until a beautifully active peak. ‘Click, Click, Click, Click’ brings to the table an irritatingly catchy chorus which you may be muttering to yourself for days. Bishop Allen explore some darker themes in ‘The News From Your Bed,’ which is a light-hearted take on depression and loneliness. The tender song ‘Butterfly Nets,’ with vocals by Darbie Nowatka, has a wonderful tenor saxophone solo by Jon Natchez. My recommended track on the album is ‘Flight 180,’ a heartfelt ballad complete with violins and piano. On & The Broken String, Bishop Allen demonstrate yet again their talent for crafting pretty, catchy indie-pop songs. This is definitely worth a listen.
Amanda Palmer: Who Killed Amanda Palmer
Author: Luke Skoza
Rating: 4 / 5
Imagine a street performer posing as a living statue. Then picture her turning into a lead singer, a pianist, and a lyricist for cabaret punk band called the Dresden Dolls and finally going her separate way. If you follow Amanda Palmer this story might sound familiar. After graduating from a Wesleyan University she formed a traveling street and theater group called the Shadowbox Collective and met Brian Vigiline along the way. They decided to settle down for a while and write some music under the name Dresden Dolls. Maybe Palmer felt stifled by the Dresden Dolls and wanted to explore on her own and it seems she’s found a partner in fellow piano pounder and producer Ben Folds. The album feels like it began as a clean canvas and both artists have filled it with many different colors of paint. On the album’s third and first strong effort “Ampersand”, It’s just Palmer and her piano aided by Paul Buckmaster’s strings telling a story about a struggle against oppression and how there’s always a way to find freedom even in the most restrictive situations. “Leed’s United” is one of her character studies of herself and others, which uses a rousing horn section to tell a story of an eerily personal protagonist who is unable to deal with reality, so she buries herself in booze, shopping, and pop culture. Palmer keeps her character study theme going in the sad and angelic “Blake Says”. Blake is full of loneliness and depression and refuses to confront his demons so he says “we all go to Alaska when we die.” “Strength through Music” is another portrait piece that tells the story of a shooter and was, ironically enough, written the week of the Virginia Tech Shooting. On “Guitar Hero” Palmer feels no sympathy for a character who chooses the fantasy of being a guitar hero rather than accepting reality. Palmer strays away from character studies on “Have to Drive”. The song deals with one of rock’s and life’s most needed emotions; escape. We take a drive and listen to Palmer sing over and with a poetic string band and a men’s choir. “What’s the Use of Wond’rin” is a comforting Rogers and Hammerstein like lullaby that puts you under a supernatural spell. “Point of It All” highlight’s Palmer’s strengths as a songwriter and a composer by creating a symphonic sound with piano and strings. Unfortunately, there’s a few blemishes on “Who Killed Amanda Palmer”. “Astronaut” and “Runs in the Family” feel too overstuffed with guitars, synths, and vocal embellishments. The clutter drowns any good moments in either song out. “Oasis” is easily the album’s low point. It’s an ironic rape and abortion tune that’s too full of trite pop and overly ironic tones making it impossible to take seriously. The closer “Another Year” is a profoundly moving reflection of Palmer’s life up to the moment she made the song. It’s a tale of unrequited love and she namedrops her friends, Bill Hicks, and her art during the course of the song. It’s the perfect ending to a new start.