Bishop Allen (Record Release Party!)
The new Bishop Allen record, Lights Out, is here at last. Here's what went into
it: ten years, three full-lengths, twelve EPs, thousands of shows, a move out of
Brooklyn, a new home in the wooly wilds of Kingston, NY, time off to score
the films Bully and Mutual Friends, as well as an Anderson Cooper 360 special,
months of demos, drum tracking in a sweat-lodge attic studio during a July heat
wave, a wet Fall arranging guitars, bass, and synths in a now-chilly attic studio,
the coldest December on record spent mixing, a close call with a frozen pipe and
flooded hard drives, and a photo found on a friend's refrigerator.
Here’s what you do with it: Check the weather. If you live in the Northern
Hemisphere, you’ve still got some summer left—the bittersweet tail end of it. Get
yourself invited to some cookouts, or throw one, and if you still have it in you to
get a little drunk or otherwise shut off any sense of responsibility, go for that. Play
this record at that event. You don’t have to listen too closely—it sounds great &
you’re going to have fun with it and feel good. Hey! you’ll say, I wish we had this
record at the beginning of the summer!
Couple weeks later, summer’s over. Responsibility is creeping back in. Driving
home from the last party of the season, you keep the record rolling in the car, like
you’re huffing the last fumes of this night…and now you quiet down & some of
the haze in your mind clears…Listen to what this guy’s singing. And realize that
this record is not what you thought it was at all. Goddamnit! Bait-and-switch!
These songs are downright melancholic!
“It is a narrowing, it is a shrinking…” “I was so cold…” “How long until the next
defeat?...” “Go on, black hole, and tear the sky to pieces…” Jesus, that’s just how
a few of these songs begin. Was he really singing that all along?
Stick with me, this is the crucial part. We’ve experienced our thesis (party) and
our antithesis (the abyss). Go home, drink plenty of fluids, survive tomorrow’s
hangover…and when you’re ready, start to wrap your head around the synthesis.
It’s not just a stunt—it’s not like they’re putting Rammstein lyrics to the tune
of "Love Shack" & having a sophomoric chuckle over it. Nah. Listen again,
think back, and realize…through every one of those cookouts…deep into every
laughter-filled late night…surrounded by the best friends you’ll ever have...well,
damn if that sadness and weariness he’s talking about weren’t right there with you
all that whole time. Damn if he wasn’t transcribing the thoughts you didn’t even
realize you were having.
Turns out the good and the bad, your youth and your aging--what's left of them
both--were inseparable. So the record is still fun too! Put it on and dance around
your kitchen. Grow 43 minutes older once again and be grateful you spent them
how you did.
Here's who worked on Lights Out: Justin Rice (vocals, guitar, synths), Michael
Tapper (drums, backing vocals, synths), Darbie Nowatka (vocals), Dave Lerner
(bass, additional guitar, backing vocals), Christian Rudder (additional guitar),
Matthew Cullen (additional guitar), Eli Walker (additional bass), Ken Cook
(backing vocals), Anne Cunningham (backing vocals), and Jon Natchez (horns).
It was produced and mixed by Matthew Cullen in Bishop Allen's hometown of
Jesse Marchant (JBM)
It could almost be inferred that Jesse Marchant wrote the songs for his new album over a period of months in New York City during which a lot of his world had come out from under him, in what he has described as "a general period of falling outs, absence and abuse, both of self and of what should or could have been surrounding". But in the process of finding an end to that Marchant feels to have grown. One is not left to wonder why he chose to drop the moniker of his former releases (his initials JBM) for the use of his proper full name, nor why his voice and lyrics, recorded with a mouth-to-ear intimacy, emphasizing his deepening and wearying baritone, sit loud and naked atop the widescreen backdrop of the deep synthesizer and orchestral pads and arrangements, often reminiscent of “I’m on Fire” era Springsteen. There is a sense of wanting to take responsibility and a desire to have things seen and said clearly for what they are, directly.
The production of the record reflects that same growth, balancing a new, vivid sound with matured control and rootedness. The lyrics were written later in that same year, when
Marchant toured the country twice alone, on early mornings in motel rooms and for a period that he spent following, in a rented house far into the desert around 29 Palms, CA.
The tone and image of this is carried throughout the record - drenched in a blinding white sunlight, in the heat, in a dream.
The songs that make up this eponymous album are menacing, dreamy worlds of their own, each one unique for each listener, instantly relatable and surprisingly therapeutic: Marchant’s revelations are infectious. He is processing internal and external problems that aren’t just personal but feel like signs of our times, and in doing so has created an album that feels particularly important, relevant, and powerful.
Starting with the ambitious 6-minute, lyrically dense album opener “Words Underlined,” Marchant quickly establishes this tone. “Where were you,” he asks, “when all of this was fucked and on it’s side?”
“I am on your side,” he sings in the very next song “All Your Promise”, with a feeling like the dilemma has been resolved. But this is not an album of resolution; it’s an album of disillusion. Even the album’s poppiest song, “The Whip”, contains a biting social commentary: “everybody likes to feel they’re holding the whip.”
But for all its philosophical, world-weary tendencies, the album is really based in themes of lost love and failed relationships. Not in a conventional sense, but in the decidedly 21st century conundrum of looking for love in the age of disconnection. Marchant’s disillusionment is rooted in this disconnection, and ironically, it exists in opposition to his uncanny ability to articulate himself through music and, in turn, connect with listeners. But when focused on an individual, these theoretical ideas become painful realities. Later in “The Whip” he sings, “I felt the sun...then I lost you...and I never got it back.” In
“Every Eye Open,” he continues, “I’ve been living in lies too... and the secret sin that I’ve loved you for more than a little while.” And in “Stay On Your Knees,” “love was real, but the meaning was wrong.”
Whether at odds with the outside world or the world within him, the battles Marchant fights on this record are such that any intuitive, conscientious listener will relate. Perhaps the entire notion is contained in a single couplet from “Snow Chicago,” that feels at once exhausted and revelatory: “I just wanna feel at ease / And that for once I do belong.”
By Dave Godowsky w/Jesse Marchant.