Album Review: School of Language – Old Fears

By on Tuesday, 1st April 2014 at 12:00 pm

I’ve probably given this far too much thought, but my thinking goes like this: if I had a pinkyful of imagination and talent from either of the Brewis brothers, I’d be pretty well off. The two of them, David and Peter, have made a name for themselves as the incredibly prolific, incredibly forward thinking Field Music. And lest you ever think either of them actually takes time off from their musical careers, think again. While it has been 6 long years since the first School of Language album, ‘Sea from Shore’, no-one would dare call David Brewis lazy; I have this vision of the cogs of his brain constantly on, constantly moving, thinking, scheming. He’s just been busy with Field Music stuff, okay? So in 2014, he has gifted us with the latest from his solo project, an LP titled ‘Old Fears’.

In early March, David, his brother and several friends appeared as School of Language the live experience to perform live on Marc Riley’s BBC 6music show. (Listen to the session on iPlayer here.) During the interview, Riley asks him what he played on the new album. He replies that he played everything. (What did I say about the pinkyful of talent earlier?) Even if you knew nothing about School of Language or Field Music, the one major takeaway from ‘Old Fears’ is this is one funky record. I’ve never visited Sunderland, and to be honest, the only things I know about it are Field Music, Futureheads and Frankie and the Heartstrings and their Pop Rec Ltd store. Maybe there is a long standing history of funk hiding out somewhere in Sunlun, but I’m not aware of it. While Sam Smith may have been anointed the BBC Sound of 2014 winner, proselytising white boy soul, Brewis has sewn up and done a far better job with white boy funk. In addition to the funk, just like he and his brother have done with Field Music, incredibly inventive electronic, rhythmic and vocal elements are on display on ‘Old Fears’ as well.

‘Between the Suburbs’ was our first taste of the new album back in January. With a wibbly, wobbly, warbly synth, an addictive rhythm helped along with tambourine and an equally addictive vocal recalling David Byrne at his finest in Talking Heads, it’s an earworm and a half. Album opener ‘Distance Between’ seems not too far from David’s Field Music work, with syncopated vocals guaranteed to move your body. Amazingly though, unlike too many releases these days, there is incredible variety of song on ‘Old Fears’. A pulsing rhythm achieved by barely whispered dum dum dums, followed by a punishing line of drumming in ‘Suits Us Better’, are both endearing, as is Brewis’ falsetto. He weaves a mesmerising cadence into ‘Small Words’ and the words follow suit. In a word, the song is beguiling. The instrumental title track sounds like the march of strange alien beings; I half expected some lumbering green blobs to come tumbling out of headphones as I listened to it. I can’t explain why, but the extremely catchy ‘Dress Up’ makes me think of a wonky yet still funky ’80s Lionel Richie as well. Have a listen to it below and see if you agree.

Lyrically, there are plenty of gems as well, including two songs that caught my attention immediately. I asked David about ‘A Smile Cracks’, as it seemed to have a too happy way about looking back at a whirlwind relationship. Never mind; his response was as follows:

The reason for my line of thinking was the chorus, which read to me as words of hope: “I don’t regret trying too hard, and I don’t regret being nice / no wasted time, doesn’t seem bad when I think back, a little smile cracks.” [NB: after David read this review, he pointed out I had heard wrong and that the line is actually “I don’t regret trying too hard, and I don’t regret being naive”. Need to brush up on that Sunderland accent! – Ed.] We’ve all had this happen: the further you get away from the pain of a relationship that didn’t work out, even if you are still really upset by the way things turned out, there are times you can look back on and think, you know, that was a really nice moment in my life. However, it sounds like David’s reason for writing the song was more to remember what it was like being caught up in the moment while that relationship was happening, but focusing on how he was feeling rather than the relationship itself.

Incredibly evocative is the closing track ‘You Kept Yourself’, with all its instruments including a sad guitar and pensive piano, seeming forlorn, bending to Brewis’ will. “You kept yourself as much from yourself as you did from me”, the track begins, indicating the person he’s singing to was never true to herself, let alone to him. As the song continues, there is a refrain “it makes no sense to be apart, it makes no sense to go home / all the things left to learn would be best learnt together”. Once track 10 came and went, I was left wondering what he meant by the title ‘Old Fears’. Are these fears of his own, or fears he has in other people? In an interview with Rocksucker (yes, there really is a Web site with that name), Brewis says the track ‘Moment of Doubt’ is addressed “To me. Most of the record is addressed to me!” Hmm. Really? I’m still wracking my brain about these songs. Buy this album. It’ll be the most thought-provoking album you’ll buy all year.


‘Old Fears’, the second album from David Brewis’ solo side project School of Language, is out on Monday (the 7th of April) on Memphis Industries, the same day he and his band will be playing an album launch party at Newcastle Cluny to celebrate the release. Other UK dates follow later in April (full details here), culminating in a show at Manchester Deaf Institute on the 28th of April. If you’re keen, come to the gig and say hello, as I will be in attendance that night.

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3 Responses

[…] the whole SoL experience is one of restrained white funk. Mary has already mentioned Talking Heads in her review of ‘Old Fears’, and the comparison is apt indeed. Self-described “kinda the single” ‘Between the Suburbs’ […]

[…] has a new album out this week, ‘Old Fears’. Read my review of the LP from last week here. This is the promo video for the nattily rhythmic ‘Dress Up’. Watch it […]

[…] released his second album ‘Old Fears’ earlier this month (see my review of the excellent album here), he’d played a string of dates in the UK, but it all led up to this final show in ol’ […]

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