Penny Black Music [Es]: Wasting Away and Wondering [Review]
Sporting indie-pop and mainstream 60's sounds, the School are a bit like a bag of French fries really. They've got that edgy beat in places that, given the chance, slips into the infectious and melancholic. That coupled with melodic pop vocals you can hold hands and dance to makes for the crunchy, curvy moment. From the moment you rip the top of the bag you just can't decide if the next fry out, or even the one crackling away on your tongue for that matter, is crunchy or curvy. This third outing from the Cardiff based act is quite the same. Is it indie or is it Motown or is it`popcorn or what? But I mean that in a nice way because this latest album has a lot to offer. Apparently the band are inspired by the sounds of the Beach Boys, The Beatles, Phil Spector and various girl bands from the 60s, but one shouldn't count out the now factor as they also draw their inspiration and share references and tastes with current bands such as Belle and Sebastian, Saturday Looks Good to Me and Camera Obscura.
'Till You Belong to Me' is built around one of those Motown backing tracks that screams with cheesiness, but the longer it goes on the more it gets under your skin. 'Don't Worry Baby' and 'He's Gonna Break Your Heart' are the band's answer to late 50's/early 60s' popcorn, while the first couple of tracks, 'Every Day' and 'All I Want from You is Everything', lean slightly towards the indie ,as does 'I Will See You Soon' which has a definite Housemartins feel.
These are confusing times. The School's homage to Northern Soul is the biggest dilemma of this well-produced affair, and I find myself asking the question: Does their version of Frank Wilson's 'Do I Love You?' hold any weight? The School are quite obviously fans of the Northern Soul genre and their audiences will also be of that persuasion, but I just wonder if they could turn a few purist types away. Anyway, having the original UK Tamla demo under lock and key in my man cave, I feel that it can never be bettered, and I am sure the band themselves never meant to better it either.
The Spector wall of sound is also given the treatment on the last track 'My Arms, They Feel Like Nothing' which turns into another Tamla number after beginning with a Bobby Sox style intro and then some early Little Stevie Wonder horns.
There is a mish mash of everything in here, and ultimately this diversity, after my initial confusion, hooked me in and won me over and makes for a great album.
The band signed with Elefant Records in the summer of 2007, toured all over the UK along with the Loves, worked in the studio with engineer/producer Ian Catt of St Etienne fame and had two radio sessions recorded for the BBC: the first one for Bethan Elfyn‘s show on Radio 1, and their second appearance live for Marc Riley. Not only that, one of the two songs included on the band's debut single 'All I Wanna Do' was chosen by LG for its television and internet advertising campaign. They have in the past released a Christmas carol called 'Let Me be the Fairy on Your Christmas Tree Tonight' and had most of their official videos for their single releases directed by Tom Readdy. 'Wasting Away and Wondering' was recorded and produced at Giant Wafer Studios in mid Wales by Rob Jones who was the brains behind Sweet Baboo.
The CD version of the album comes as a four page card CD cover sporting all the lyrics along with some beautiful imagery by Kirsten McTernan and artwork by Luis Calvo of Elefant.
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