Handclaps, sweet harmonies, and a little bit of soul—it’s not the formative years of a nascent Motown, but the newest LP, Reading Too Much Into Things Like Everything, from Cardiff’s indiepop mini-orchestra, The School. And it’s not just early Motown that’s in play here. Whether it’s echoes of Lesley Gore, Del Shannon, or the Supremes, classic textures from pre-British Invasion American rock ‘n’ roll are ever present on the band’s latest effort.
It’s nothing new, of course. The School have always been a band rooted in the ’60s, but Reading Too Much finds the band on firmer footing than ever before. Where the debut LP, 2010′s Loveless Unbeliever, was assembled over the course of several years and lineup changes, the current lineup has been together since early that same year and remained consistent through the composition process of their sophomore release. It’s that consistency which has helped to build a more cohesive album than the first LP. They say you have a lifetime to make your first record. Well, time is one thing. Vision is something else entirely. Loveless Unbeliever was (mostly) the brainchild of a single person with a rotating cast of players, and, while Liz Hunt (vocals, keyboards) may remain the prevailing force, Reading Too Much is clearly a group effort, and music written with the players in mind, and which plays to their strengths will nearly always prove more successful than music written in a vacuum.
While the album is frequently driven by the keyboards which have been so prominent in their previous work, The School are at their best (at least in the context of this album), when the standard keyboard sound is traded in for a digital organ and clean guitars give harmonic vitality to already irresistible danceable rhythms, as on “Why Do You Have To Break My Heart Again” and the lead single “Never Thought I’d See The Day”, where their use in combination with handclaps, upbeat background vocals, and the classic early ’60s drum beat result in what could be a certified dance hit, vintage 1963. In other places, such as “I Should Do” and “Where Does Your Heart Belong?”, trumpet breaks prevail in such a way that will no doubt please fans of early Belle & Sebastian. One of the biggest, and most pleasant surprises here, however, is the melodic, bass-bolstering baritone sax on “The Grass Is Always Greener On The Other Side”, a driving number with such a firm grip on the Motown sound you’d think Mr. Gordy himself had a hand in it. The same could be said for “Stop That Boy” which, at least in my mind, evokes frequent flashes of early Supremes.
As a band, The School are living proof of the enduring relevance of that first decade of rock ‘n’ roll. More importantly, Reading Too Much Into Things Like Everything, makes a strong case for the belief that a good beat and strong melody can get you anywhere, even if the place you want to go is 50 years in the past. Listening to it, you may as well be cruising down Route 66 in a ’59 Impala. It’s just a shame Dick Clark couldn’t be here to see it.
Reading Too Much Into Things Like Everything is available now on LP and CD from Elefant Records.