By Connor Stroff, Contributor
Key Tracks: “Still Alive”, “Less Than Perfect”, “Body”
The Spook School‘s Could It Be Different? marks the Edinburgh-based indie-rock quartet’s third and most polished album to date. Frontman Nye Todd writes lyrics which sentiment his experiences with gender dysmorphia (“Body”), surviving sexual assault (“Still Alive”) and searching for relief in a post-Brexit Europe (“Bad Year”). Bandmates Niall McCamley, Anna Cory and Adam Todd (Nye’s brother) lend their expertise to help support the cause.
Sporting the tag as “the trans band” in their local scene, the group has embraced the gender/political associated connotations that come with the label. Not only are these topics inseparable from their own identities, they play core roles inspiring the creative content for their music. Rather than directly tackling broad issues such as gender and sexual identity like in their first two LP’s, we get to know the specific stories and experiences with which these topics grow from. Having grown more confident with improved production, the band glows with a new sense of urgency, as if desperately trying to recover from an uncertain and politically regressive year.
Kicking off the album is “Still Alive”, a ridiculously catchy power-pop anthem guaranteed to get stuck in your head for days. The song is about coming out of an abusive relationship alive and better off, serving as a great prelude for what’s to come. “Best of Intentions” sounds like a homage to Scotland’s influential twee-rock heritage, as Anna Cory lends vocals for sounds akin to The Vaselines. The band excels at crafting irresistibly sweet pop moments in short, yet explosive bursts. “Less Than Perfect” especially portrays this; their songwriting skill doesn’t end there, even in more low-key moments their lyricism never falters. No track appears to come off as forced or dishonest. Despite this, some songs occasionally succumb to fatigue and repetitiveness.
This is especially evident in “Alright (Sometimes)”, featuring their most sensitive verse, “Let’s pretend the world’s alright / Let’s pretend we’re doing fine / For fifteen seconds at a time”. Despite Todd’s attempt to hold onto optimism and to stand ground, deep below lies a perpetual state of dread through which only self-deception can mask. Unfortunately, the rest of the track tends to linger on with little change or improvisation. Despite this occasional issue, there’s still much to love here, including “Body”, a contagiously danceable anthem about learning to love yourself. Regardless of the occasional predictability in song structure, Could It Be Different? highlights the band’s superb skill in crafting catchy pop music without ever sacrificing their identities.