This ‘The Spook School’ article was written by Jack Press, a GIGsoup contributor
If you’ve ever suffered the indelible cocktail of girls, guys, heartbreak, alcohol, sex, and anything else that remotely sounds like a teenage rite-of-passage, then Try To Be Hopeful is the one record you’ll be relating to this year without a doubt.
Edinburgh’s The Spook School are a funny bunch of friends – they like to sing about genders, sex, and all of those issues that come with growing up to a nauseating yet day-making mixtape of C86 indie infused with jangle pop and an annoyingly all-too-consistent obsession for clanging cymbals. Whilst it may drive a listener to drink, it’ll be for all the right reasons.
Throwing caution thoroughly to the wind, opener Burn Masculinity is a balls-to-the-wall I-don’t-care attack on each and everyone’s mind-set of what gender is. It’s the ultimate opener – dizzy distorting guitars bubble up and explode into jangly jingly riffs whilst bassist Anna Cory groans “Burn burn burn burn masculinity” over and over again.
If at first you think you’re being exposed to the results of a record where Courtney Barnett is forced to sing, you’ll be forgiven for the shock that’ll come with the rest of the record – which is a welcome surprise I’m sure. Try To Be Hopeful sounds like a recording session featuring The Libertines, Lily Allen, and anyone who ever made music about their teenage years, which in 2015 is part-and-parcel of the scene. So what makes The Spook School’s sophomore effort so good? The fact that they’re handing in Grade A coursework throughout.
Dress Up – their 2013 debut – was as ballsy as this record, but a little immature and a little C-grade, whereas on Try To Be Hopeful, The Spook School have refined themselves considerably to create a well-oiled body of work that tackles social issues amongst a smorgasbord of empathetic anecdotes.
Whilst they’re ticking all the boxes, there is certainly room for improvement for the nit-pickers of us out there. How you scream? By giving Anna Cory more of a spotlight, that’s how! The bassist’s sounds are tuned down a lot, as low as they can go, and that’s perfectly fine but when she’s got a vocal talent as exceptional as hers, it needs to be utilised like a weapon of mass destruction – not the lets-break-up-the-male-vocals-toy it’s currently acting as.
The Todd brothers vocal attacks are tinged with that true Scottish accent, and feel as fiery as the words they speak yet it’s the harmonies they create throughout the record that add to its overt charm. Closing duo Binary and title-track Try To Be Hopeful are harmony heaven – filled with over-lapping male-to-female vocals that’ll melt your heart quicker than lasers melt metal.
Indie bands these days lack a sense of achievement, their records don’t reward you for replaying them – a rarer-than-mew quality that The Spook School fortunately have. It’s not in their jangly guitars, low basslines or crashing cymbals though, it’s in their lyrical prowess that you’ll be rewarded. Simplicity is the indispensable rule on this record, and it flourishes faster than a blooming blossom on tracks like August 17th, where honesty is a heart-warming albeit heart-breaking sentiment – “just because you’re in love doesn’t mean your heart’s taken/I don’t wanna split you up even if I want to see you naked” – if youth culture was making a rise, this would be its emotional priority.
Try To Be Hopeful is a sure-fire melting pot of all things good about jangle-pop indie and testament to the likes of The Shop Assistants and The Libertines. The Spook School are only just starting to spread their A-grade coursework, and it’s sure to become the talk of the town if they keep following their own rulebook.
‘Try To Be Hopeful’ is out on the 9th October via Fortuna POP!