Try To Be Hopeful Is Out October 9th Via Fortuna POP!
Somewhere, in the murky cloud cover that often shrouds the sky over the British Isles, an effervescent wizard waits, biding time until their singular role in the universe is needed: some wicked wrist flick (not unlike a guitar pick strum) unbinds magic for just one moment, and a new little bit of whimsy in the shape of Britpop is born. The Spook School is no doubt a result of such a trick in the universe: the formula of others before them is readily identifiable, but they apparently love the Buzzcocks and a firm, youthful approach to punk just enough to stay interesting and above the oft supersaturated indie waters of their genre. First formed in 2012 out of a campus (University of Edinburgh) union, The Spook School’s Try to Be Hopeful is their pithier, more clever follow-up LP to 2013’s debut album, Dress Up.
Admittedly at first listen, I was a little underwhelmed, but only as a matter of taste, not musical quality. This is some seemingly cutesy shit. All bubbly, fun chord progressions and speed-eating drums. Some ingenue (I really wish there was a less-gendered word for the concept of youthful innocence implied by the term “ingenue”, let’s work on that) persistence in the harmonies which masked the clever lyrics I only heard the second round of listening. But maybe that is a good thing. Starry eyed romance is such a thing in Britpop, to see it subverted so well in Try to Be Hopeful made me stop and reconsider my initial dismissal.
As they are staunchly queer-identified artists, I knew to be looking for this healthy dose of gender upheaval, and was excited to see just how cunning they are with blending the basics of queer thought into a pop-forward questioning of their own prefered genre. The perfect example? The first track, uncompromisingly titled ‘Burn Masculinity’, which croons through lines like “And I’ve got to accept that I’ve inherited a privilege” and “What makes you think that you could go on insulting her/ And then apologize when her boyfriend walks in”, “It makes us think that it is still okay to have marriage when there’s no way you can own a living being”, all while cradled in crackling guitar fuzz that could win over any fan of Arcade Fire’s beginnings. ‘Richard and Judy’ is another jolly punkish-sounding tune with teeth that sink right into a juicy criticism of gender as fostered in the school environment and the dismissal of individuality in education. Tough stuff hidden in summer bubbles, truly.
Lyrical content aside, Try to Be Hopeful is crisply produced, their instruments and electro additions wielded with a youthful earnestness to match their sound. They do seem to have more of a practiced student approach to musical arrangement rather than individual ego-boosting virtuosity, which is just fine. Other stand-out tracks Overblown’s listeners should not miss is the funny genre-protest party anthem ‘Binary’ (which is accompanied by a great video), and my personal favorite from the album, title track ‘August 17’ which is a coy love ballad calling for a different approach to love.
Try To Be Hopeful is out via Fortuna POP! on October 9th.
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