There's a note of defiance that rings almost immediately during the start of the first song on the new album from The Spook School and it's a wondrous thing. "Still Alive" kicks off the band's third album, Could It Be Different?, out on Friday via Slumberland Records in America, and the cut is, like so many here, bursting with a youthful pep that is positively contagious. If the band started out a few years ago betraying a few debts owed to the C86 generation, they're decidedly owned those inspiration points this time out as this record is gloriously self-assured and wholly original.
The Spook School -- Nye Todd (guitar and vocals), Anna Cory (bass and vocals), Adam Todd (guitar and vocals), and Niall McCamley (drums) -- have used the cuts here on the new album to sort of stake out territory that few other indie-pop acts are likely to pursue with such fearlessness. And if the lyrics of songs like "Body" and "Bad Year" look at matters that are personal, and matters that hint at how personal matters can shape larger political concerns -- or one's entire outlook on the world -- the music is largely bright and buoyant, and the sort of thing acts as disparate as Spearmint and The Wedding Present routinely pulled off a few decades back with a similar sort of sonic force. Of course, those acts didn't quite put themselves out there in lyrical terms as boldly as the members of The Spook School do here, but that's why Could It Be Different? is such a triumph. And as the lyrics of "Alright (Sometimes)" make clear, things can be shitty in the era of Trump, so shitty that folks would be forgiven for giving up hope entirely. And where The Spook School succeed here is in making highly personal music that feels downright revolutionary in its directness. There's a universality in stuff like "High School" that hits a listener, regardless of the fact that this lot are from Scotland, and that their individual back-stories may be quite different than mine or yours. What's here are anthems for those looking for the light, and if the chiming "Best of Intentions" and the fuzzy-and-buzzing "I Only Dance When I Want To" do not inspire even the most jaded of indie listeners, then everything is wrong with the world.
A successful melding of the best songs from the best bands of the C86 generation, along with a few dozen dashes or so from the generation or two of American indie-pop acts who kicked up a fuss during the early days of Slumberland Records, Could It Be Different? is a joyously invigorating refinement and sharpening of so many things you and I have loved over the course of the last few decades. And for all that, it feels new in its POV and damn near revolutionary in its humanistic concerns. If things are getting you down, spin this and sing along when the lyrics go "Let's pretend we're doing fine" and maybe, just maybe, these little indie-pop gems will make you feel a little bit better as the very best pop usually does.
[Photo: Chris Bellou]