Tuesday, September 11, 2007

"Little Black Ache" / Bishop Allen

And here's another sly bunch of popsters waiting in limbo for the success they deserve. Bishop Allen is a quirky Brooklyn-based indie band -- the songwriting duo Justin Rice and Christian Rudder, college friends, who have been accumulating more collaborators with each (tiny) increment of success. These prolific guys actually cranked out an EP every month throughout 2006, a completely mad undertaking that finally began to get them a fan base and some press notice. (And I thought the Baskervilles' one-single-a-month project was ambitious!)

At the end of all that, Bishop Allen released last July a new CD, The Broken String, which has generated molto buzz; I've just picked it up. But this track is from Charm School, their 2003 debut effort. Charm School has a stripped-down sort of D.I.Y. charm, like it was cooked up in a railroad flat with a bathtub in the kitchen. These guys sound like people you'd know -- maybe the guy in the next cubicle at work, the one with the pasty complexion and skinny jeans and thrift-store tweed jacket.

In fact, this song is a lot like The Baskerville's "Prowl" that I wrote about last night -- the urban singles scene, the slightly unhinged narrator, the crisp hooky beat.

Tonight's loser is hapless indeed: "Chasing my excuses to the end of the night / Tried to make a friend but it ended with a fight / I don't know why and I don't know when / But my keys have found a way to lock me out again." This is almost Buster Keaton territory, and the strained warble of the lead vocal makes it even funnier. "Sleeping on the subway in my interview tie," he goes on (I love that image), "Wander through the rain, sit and wonder why / Haven't got a plan, I haven't got a clue / I only got one lonely thing that's gonna see me through. "

Now here comes the chorus, a jaunty call and response (and listen for that synthesized echo snuck in as well): "I got my little black ache (won't fade) / What you got? / I got my little black ache (won't fade) / What you got? / I got my little black ache (won't fade) / What you got? / My little black ache won't fade." Pitiful as it is, it's also true -- we love our own neuroses, don't we? And sometimes they're the only company we have. ("I know I had some friends, I can almost hear their names," he whines later on.)

Against all odds, he seems to score when he stumbles into a bar: "Lovely little girl, crowded little place / I swear on this old Bible that I've never seen her face." But of course he blows it -- "She talks like I know what she's talking about / So where's this door that's got to let me out." Yep, that's panic's plenty familiar too.

Charm School is one of those albums I instinctively liked the first time I heard it, and I only learned about it because someone I met cared enough to recommend it. Let's all vow to recommend likeable new bands to each other, as soon as we learn about them. Give the new guys a chance!

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