Following 2009's Grrr..., indie pop outfit Bishop Allen made a conscious effort to stretch out, making time for side projects and other creative pursuits, eventually abandoning Brooklyn's overpopulated indietropolis for the upstate Hudson River Valley berg of Kingston, New York. Formed in 2003 by Harvard pals Justin Rice and Christian Rudder, the prolific duo employed a rotating cast of players, releasing three albums and 12 EPs in their first seven years of existence. Fans not used to waiting so long between releases had to make do with Rice and wife Darbie Nowatka's (now an official member of Bishop Allen) Last Names project, which spent literally all of 2012 releasing a different cover song each week, a herculean and arguably gimmicky effort akin to Bishop Allen's run of 12 EPs in 12 months back in 2006. A less intense mindset seems to have been applied to the band's long-awaited (by their standards) fourth album, Lights Out, which, on the surface, comes across as an easygoing collection of summertime indie pop that plays more cohesively than much of their previous output. Pairing somewhat downbeat lyrics with amiable uptempo rhythms and melodies, they deliver what Rice has referred to as a "sad party record." Songs like the album opener "Start Again" and the bouncy "Crows" are enjoyably catchy numbers that musically follow familiar contemporary indie pop patterns full of chiming guitars, bubbling synths, and quirky, intellectual lyrics. "How long until the next defeat?" asks Rice on "Give It Back," a strangely effervescent mid-album standout. Nowatka's low-key vocal delivery on "Black Hole" and the acoustic album closer "Shadow" deepen the juxtaposition of dark/light that gives the album its strange atmosphere. Whatever Bishop Allen's intention, there is a sort of miasma hovering over Lights Out that supports the "sad party album" claim, adhering these clever pop songs together but deflating some of their energy in the process. It's an odd effect making for a pleasurable yet confusing listen.
AllMusic Review by Timothy Monger