Album Review: The Spook School – Could It Be Different?

By on Thursday, 25th January 2018 at 12:00 pm
 

Spook School Could It Be Different coverGlasgow-based indie pop band The Spook School have become known for combining emotionally honest lyrical treatment of gender and sexuality with an upbeat and unapologetic pop-punk musical sound. Their first two albums, 2013’s ‘Dress Up’ and 2015 release ‘Try to Be Hopeful’ both explore queer and trans identities in a broad societal context as well as in the more intimate context of personal relationships. The band’s new third LP ‘Could It Be Different?’ leans noticeably toward the personal end of that spectrum, its songs reflecting on past relationships and measuring their impact on present ones.

The album’s first two singles place themselves on either end of the dichotomy. Album opener ‘Still Alive’ is a triumphant liberation from an abusive relationship, with a rebellious chorus that will surely become a crowd-favourite singalong in live performance: “fuck you, I’m still alive / and I’m not going anywhere with you.” Follow-up release ‘Less Than Perfect’ is lighter and brighter in tone, but subdued in its acceptance of unfulfilled expectations. “We’re made of puzzle pieces / and I hope that I am right,” sings Anna Cory, “when I guess the parts you recognize / could be the parts you like.”

Cory’s lead vocal sets up another juxtaposition on ‘Could It Be Different?’, this one musical in nature. Alternating the lead vocal between Cory and Nye Todd adds an element of interest to an otherwise homogenous sonic palette. The Spook School’s fuzzy lo-fi guitars and relentlessly uptempo rhythms are deliberate hallmarks of their sound, but while they lend cohesion to the album, they also become a bit predictable. The variation in vocal timbre and lyrical perspective counteracts this effect nicely, especially on Cory’s late-album tracks ‘I Only Dance When I Want To’ and ‘While You Were Sleeping’.

Backing vocals are cleverly applied in several places on ‘Could It Be Different?”, notably in the poignantly nostalgic ‘Keep In Touch’. Cory’s lofty “ahhs” lend a feeling of hazy memory behind the bittersweet reflection “we were so naïve / we were so together / we were so young . . .” That air of reflection takes on a different tone in ‘I Hope She Loves You’, where Todd sings from a removed and distinctly present point of view, “I’m a whole different person / I’m not inclined that way.”

The Spook School also examine current social issues in terms of their personal impact. ‘Bad Year’ tackles the demoralising effect of Brexit in the UK, as Todd describes his emotional shock: “I admire your optimism but I just need to feel it / I just need to take a moment before I can start dealing.” Current single ‘Body’ takes a head-on look at body dysmorphia, opening with a stark and brutally honest statement, “do you like the way you look naked? / I don’t know if any of us do”, but softening the blow, as usual, with their quirky guitar pop sound.

Album closer ‘High School’ harkens back to gawky adolescence with lyrical lines that are awkward in places, but its adult perspective is clear: “I’m not saying I regret the old days / can’t take back the choices that I made / I guess I wouldn’t want to anyway”. Even in this more sombre-toned ballad, The Spook School refuse to descend into complete sonic despair. Despite the weighty subject matter, their energetic music ultimately projects the idea that these conflicted and confused feelings are okay.

‘Could It Be Different?’ embraces the messiness and ambiguity in human relationships across the spectra of gender and sexuality. The songs are specifically intended to address gender-fluid relationships, but their underlying sentiments are universally applicable, and the band’s lo-fi indie pop is engaging without being intimidating. The Spook School haven’t necessarily stepped out of their own comfort zone with this album, but they might just encourage the rest of us to step out of ours.

7.5/10

‘Could It Be Different?’ is due out tomorrow, Friday, the 26th of January via Alcopop! Records (UK) / Slumberland Records (America). The Spook School will support alt-pop duo Diet Cig on their North American tour beginning on the 29th of January; find details on their official Facebook. TGTF’s past coverage of The Spook School is collected through this link.

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