All that woodshedding sure paid off for Bishop Allen. The Brooklyn-by-way-of-Boston quartet undertook an ambitious one-EP-a-month project in 2006, self-releasing a staggering 58 songs over that time. Despite no label or publicist and the modest arrangements of the material, the blogosphere picked up the PR slack, eventually earning the band kudos from NPR and The Wall Street Journal, among others. The Broken String ups the ante considerably, reworking ten songs from the EP cycle and two new cuts into lustrous indie pop notable for its versatility, clever lyrics, and offbeat instrumentation. The songs suggest a host of touchstones, from the orchestral drama of a scaled-back Arcade Fire and can't-miss hooks of the Shins to Stephin Merritt-like wordplay and narrative flights à la the Decemberists. Songwriters Justin Rice and Christian Rudder may not quite scale those heights, but in the hybrid they've come up with something nearly as intoxicating. "Monitor" opens the record with Rice contrasting the Civil War ironclad and sailors' courage with playing on-stage. It's an audacious conceit, but the song's slow-burn build into cascading piano runs, symphonic percussion, and joyous choruses makes it more elegiac than pretentious. That song bleeds into the metronomic guitar riffs and driving pop beat of "Rain," setting the table for the diversity that follows. "Click, Click, Click, Click," with its infectious bouncing-ball beat and nylon-stringed guitar runs, is surely coming to a Kodak commercial soon, while "Like Castanets" turns from twangy shuffle to Caribbean-flavored calypso, the marimbas, glockenspiel, and muted trumpet making for a delightful mini-vacation. Darbie Nowatka's gentle vocal turn on "Butterfly Nets" is an effective mid-record change of pace and a rare instance in rock where you'll find a saxophone and ukulele cohabitating. Even the brief vignette "Shrinking Violet" and its oboe/banjo counterpoint is another example of Bishop Allen's imaginative arrangements. Just about the only misstep is "Middle Management," a straight-ahead power pop tune more suited to the band's debut, Charm School -- it's not a bad song, but the bar's been set much higher everywhere else on The Broken String.
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AllMusic Review by John Schacht