(As noted in my first Essentials entry, this is an occasional series in which I spotlight albums that, in my estimation, everyone should experience at least once.)
It’s been a cloudy morning and early afternoon in the Triangle with rain expected to push into the region later today and last all night. However, the sun is shining bright in my den, where the Welsh pop band that calls itself the School is lightening my day. Formed in 2007 and signed to Elefant Records after only their fourth gig, the group released a single and EP in 2008 and their full-length debut, Loveless Unbeliever, in 2010. (It includes those earlier tracks.) That December, in a post to Facebook I’ve since moved here, I described it as “a pure shot of upbeat retro-pop sure to cure the foulest of moods” while naming it my fifth favorite album of the year.
Frontwoman and songwriter Liz Hunt’s love for the sounds of early and mid-‘60s is on full display from the opening note of the first track, “Let It Slip,” yet echoes of other ages can be heard in the grooves, too, due to shared influences. If she’d lived in L.A. during the early ‘80s, for instance, something tells me she’d have found herself enmeshed within the Paisley Underground, which also took from the past to inform the present, and, during the early ‘90s, she’d have hopped aboard the alternative bandwagon that gave us the Blake Babies, Lemonheads and Belly, among other indie-pop acts.
Other songs channel the Beach Boys, Phil Spector, Dusty Springfield and such girl groups as the Ronettes, Shangri-Las and Supremes. It’s not a pop pastiche, however. As Hunt explained to SoundsXP.com in 2009 that “it’s all real, everything in the music is true, my heart and brain genuinely think they’re in that era. It’s what I live and breathe so would be unnatural for me to make any other type of music.”
Some songs, such as “Can’t Understand,” are literally just a verse (or is it a chorus?) repeated a few times.
If you listened to the clip, you likely were swept away by the swirling sensations of the song – at least, I am every time I play it. A quick read of the brief lyrics reveals something darker going on than upbeat fun, however: “I can’t understand the reason why you knock-a-knock upon my door/I can’t understand the reason why you wanna wanna see me more/You can’t pretend/It’s happening again/I’ve no sympathy/It’s happening again.” The same’s true for other tunes on the 13-song set.
“Hoping and Praying,” another favorite track, echoes the construction of Dusty Springfield’s “Wishin’ and Hopin’,” which was written by Hal David and Burt Bacharach.
When Loveless Unbeliever was released, the always cool Camera Obscura was often mentioned by reviewers seeking a more modern comparison than the geriatric artists many readers were too young to know firsthand. I’d add another act to the mix: fellow Welsh native Duffy, who conjured Dusty Springfield in every note of Rockferry. Liz Hunt’s vocals are lighter, granted, but can delve from airy to gritty when needed.
In the years since, the band has released worthwhile albums in 2012 (Reading Too Much into Things Like Everything) and 2015 (Wasting Away and Wondering), plus a Christmas E.P. in 2019. It’s a slim CV, for sure, but one that’s well worth investigating. Part of that likely stems from life commitments – Hunt, for instance, co-owns and books a music club in Cardiff and established/organizes the annual Wales Goes Pop! festival. Which is all beside the point, I suppose, in a piece spotlighting a specific album. At the end of the day, if or when you’re in a doom-and-gloom mood, give Loveless Unbeliever a spin. Its throwback sound forever syncs with the needs of the present and leaves me smiling.
The track list: