Bishop Allen

November / December EP

(Self-released; 2006)

By Craig Eley | 2 February 2007

The Bishop Allen EP-a-month project is over, and I would be lying if I said I wasn't a bit relieved. This has nothing to do with the music itself, but simply the sheer abundance of it. In a weird way I've come to associate Bishop Allen with the very act of writing music criticism; this is the third time I've covered them in 4 months. But it's not like I'm being forced--hell, I choose these gigs--except by the music itself, which grabbed me almost a full year ago and hasn't let go since. When I found out these last two installments had finally been released, I told my editor I'd be covering them "for the sake of closure." A relationship has developed in this 12-month odyssey, and I'm guessing it's like the relationship that develops between the kidnapper and the victim. I love you, Bishop Allen, but I want to go home.

Of course, the rub here (for me as well as the band) is that there is no way to go home, really, because after a trip like this you've changed in a way that makes home unrecognizable or, at least, unwanted. Furthermore, you're supposed to be fulfilled but you still feel empty, supposed to feel accomplished but you know there is still so much left to do. These are the themes of December's--and, thus, the series'--finale, "Calendar." It's an ode to these competing emotions, and sonically feels torn between its desire to be an anthem and a quiet lament. Lines like "There is only one way to end the year / Burn, calendar, burn" should be supplemented with fist-in-air shouting and lively percussion, but instead we get a noodling guitar solo and shakers. It seems as if they are aware of the sheer weight of this track ("Shit, how are we going to end this thing?"), and are copping out. It makes me a bit sad, though it does have a '90s alt-rock sound that I really love.

Even as the closing track--their final statement--I refuse to make "Calendar" the last word on this series. True, it is a very emotional song, and it is very much like Bishop Allen to wear their hearts so plainly on their sleeves: they've toiled at this thing, and at times it felt like a prison, and at the end they just don't know what they're left with. But as listeners and fans we all know the exact remainder of this exercise: 58 solid tracks and the persistent, monthly reminder that making and releasing (and writing about) music is supposed to be fun. You don't undertake a project like this without a crazy (literally "insane," perhaps) passion for what you're doing. This is echoed by the playfulness that runs through almost every Bishop track, as evidenced in earlier-released gems like "Queen of the Rummage Sale" and "Abe Lincoln."

While December feels weary, that playfulness still seems fresh as ever on November, the superior of these final releases. "Don Christopher" is an historical narrative of Columbus coming to Barcelona and telling about his voyages only to upset the jealous Count ("Was it really such a feat?"). Lyrically, the song uses "Hurrah" repeatedly, often in hilarious counterpoint to the Count's bitterness. "The Envy of the Bees" tells of a "wanton" man who insists on hurting women. He prides himself on his ability to "sting" over and over again, unlike the one-shot bee. It's a representative example of the series: a cock-eyed view of the world that sees love and sex and heartache and injustice hiding in plain view.

The real message to take home, though, is from "WEKH." A love song to the South (the station is from Eastern Kentucky University), road culture, and gospel, the song is imbued with breezy happiness and precious descriptions of the hills and the music. The chorus is rather straightforward: "East Kentucky / Hallelujah / Radio." The verses make it clear that the narrator is listening to gospel, but the execution leads me to believe that "hallelujah" is a worship-like exclamatory, not an adjective. This band loves music, on the radio or otherwise, and for 12 months, however imperfectly, they did their best to pass it along to us. At the end I'm only left with, "Hallelujah!"