I first discovered Bishop Briggs when her song “River” was featured on the short-lived television program Scream. I didn’t watch the show, but I knew people who did and they raved about the song. So, I pulled up iTunes and checked out her music. At that time, she had about five singles out and I loved every single one of them. Ever since, I’d been eagerly anticipating her debut album. 2017 brought us an EP and I got to see her live (twice!) at a music festival. But still no album.
Until this year, that is. As soon as Bishop announced Church of Scars, it became one of my most anticipated albums of the year. And it did not disappoint. Her rich, soulful growl of a voice dominates every track, a powerful statement. Lyrically, Bishop works largely with a Christian motif. Iconic imagery and concepts from the Bible are used to highlight and parallel her relationship. It’s a secular look into Christianity. However, this motif doesn’t overpower the album. It’s a well-balanced idea that pairs well with the bombastic production. Bishop ingeniously pairs real instruments with synths and midi instruments, each one enhancing the other. I can’t even pick favorites—every song on this album strikes me deep. This album is, quite frankly, a revelation. And now, here’s a track-by-track review of Bishop Briggs’ debut, Church of Scars:
- Tempt My Trouble: The opening track, this song is Bishop’s poppiest to date. An irresistible bassline pushes the song forward, a satisfying parallel to Bishop’s deep voice. The chorus makes you want to get up and dance. This is a true anthem in the making. Lyrically, it depicts a messy, dysfunctional relationship that Bishop can’t help but love. It’s feisty and fierce, a real contender for the next single.
- River: And here we have it— Bishop’s biggest hit to date. It’s a buzzing, thundering track, Bishop’s voice the most commanding it’s ever been. This song is the literal definition of coming in for the kill. It starts out unassuming and then grabs you. Anthemic as it is vocally astonishing, it’s no wonder this song catapulted her to fame.
- Lyin’: One of the only two ballads on the album, this one finds Bishop in a vulnerable place. Accompanied by guitar and a snapping beat, she bemoans the fact that she put more into the relationship than her partner did. Her voice squeaks with anguish, a small choir signifying the voices in her head. Painful and tough, this ballad really packs a punch.
- White Flag: Despite being the obligatory “you can’t keep me down” anthem, she still manages to imbue the track with her unique Bishop-ness. She uses a lot of fire imagery and declares she “ain’t afraid to shed a little blood.” Even though it’s my least favorite song of hers so far, I still love it. As far as I’m concerned, Bishop Briggs can do no wrong.
- Dream: Objectively Bishop’s happiest song, this track is about falling in love and letting go. Acoustic guitars and synths punctuate the track, but Bishop’s deep, soulful voice steals the show. The lyrics are poignant, Bishop wanting to be fearless and free but not quite ready to embrace the pain that comes with that. It’s such a good song and the obvious companion to “Water.”
- Wild Horses: This song was the first Bishop Briggs song I truly fell in love with. Part acoustic, part synthesizer, this song packs a punch. And, despite the thunder of the production, Bishop’s voice stays calm, cool, and collected. It’s a wonderful juxtaposition, especially against lyrics like, “Wild horses/Run faster.” This song still gets me fired up over a year later.
- Hallowed Ground: Piano and heavy snaps keep this song grounded, while a synthesizer gives it a funky twist. An organ underscores the chorus, echoing the concept of “hallowed ground.” Bishop’s vocals are rich and powerful, praising the lord of her soul. This song is also where the album title comes from, as she sings, “My heart is a church of scars.” It’s dynamic and moving, quite possibly my new favorite song she’s ever released.
- Water: Another of the two ballads, the utter anguish in Bishop’s voice is enough to bowl you over. She bemoans the fact that she’s so damaged good love hurts. This song is also the closest this album has to a fully acoustic song, accompanied only by a piano and steady drum beat. A choir backs her up on the chorus, everyone’s voices dripping with devastation of Biblical proportions. This is easily one of Bishop’s best written and performed songs. Absolutely majestic.
- The Fire: This drum-heavy track finds Bishop reflecting on her imbalanced relationship, her voice downright growling. She has sacrificed her relationship for the sake of her partner, and now she can’t stop. The song is propelled forward by a constant beat and choir singers enhance the persevering tone. This song alone is enough to dominate a person completely.
- Hi-Lo (Hollow): Even though this is a song about a dysfunctional relationship, this is Bishop’s most sensual song yet. She croons out the verses in a come-hither way, silken and smooth. The format of the song reflects the “high/low” dynamic, the verses soft and sexy and the chorus loud and rough. Moreover, the word play between “high/low” and “hollow” is ingenious. Not only do they sound similar, but they perfectly exemplify the relationship chronicled in this song. Bishop needs her partner’s highs and lows to fill her. The song even features a brief dubstep drop. A true masterpiece in its own right.
- Hold On: The final track is interestingly somehow both the most electronic and the most gospel. A wonderful echo effect is used on Bishop’s voice, giving the illusion of her singing in an empty church. In many ways, this is a modern day worship song. It’s a completely secular message, but it feels so much larger than life. A choir helps bring it home, a veritable light from above. It’s such an excellent track, I’m sad it’s only on the Target edition.
My only complaint is that there aren’t as many new songs as I’d hoped. At least half were previous singles or on her EP. I suppose it’s to be expected, but I was a little let down. But at least they’re good songs.
All in all, this album lives up to expectations and throws in a few surprises along the way. Bishop takes some creative risks that really help enhance her sound. From start to finish, this album is a spiritual awakening. I cannot wait to see where Bishop Briggs takes her career next.