Smart and warmly crafted, Grrr… is sensible pop riddled with mistakes, from finicky, overcrafted lyrics to a serious case of musical kleptomania. Following 2007’s The Broken String and a series of monthly stunt EPs, the third full-length from Brooklyn’s Bishop Allen reaches a level of maturity that would be commendable if not achieved on the backs of other artists, and the album is further weakened by its precious sense of pervasive, mincing wordplay.
As a patchwork of similarly inspired styles, the album largely gets by on its own good vibes, even if these vibes are not really its own. Opening track “Dimmer” recalls Andrew Bird with its plucked guitar and wailing violin crescendo, segueing into the Unicorns-cribbing xylophone of “The Lion & the Teacup.” The record remains entirely pleasant throughout, upbeat and catchy, dipping into the indie canon to imitate John Vanderslice and Paul Simon, among others.
It’s hard to criticize an album that feels so good-natured, especially when unoriginality is hardly a mark against this kind of pop, but the band misses again with its lyrics, which, while generally clever, often stray into the realm of overstructured precocity. Lines like “You’ve got eyes like Oklahoma” register as meaningless and far too cutesy, weakening material that had no need to stretch itself so far beyond its simple, endearing hooks. At times this goes as far as to resemble a less experimental Destroyer, pursuing pointless tangential larks and bending over backward to create circling lyrical puzzles that have no place in the structures the band employs.
This struggle for significant cleverness unfortunately dovetails with vocal patterns that all seem borrowed from somewhere else, leaving us with overburdened music that often feels like karaoke. Either fault would be forgivable, and even though the combination of the two is still effective enough, at times it makes one yearn for the source material that Bishop Allen is modifying. “Tiger, Tiger” ends the album on this note, returning to the signature Andrew Bird shuffle—again the violins, again the similar chords, even adding the kind of brass section Bird himself might have chosen, creating a sensation of repetition that calls the necessity of the entire album into question.