A period-authentic backdrop allows Liz Hunt’s sublime vocals to take centre stage.
Andrzej Lukowski 2010
Eccentrically enough, the 2010 edition of hip Barcelona-based indie festival Primavera featured a one off performance from Bis, the Glaswegian DIY posters who’d notionally gone their separate ways seven years previously. Shoved on first thing on the first day, the whole spectacle was rather surreal, but does go to show that the Spanish like their twee-pop rather more than one might expect. Certainly this attitude may explain how on earth Cardiff octet The School came to be signatories to Madrid’s esteemed Elefant label after a mere four shows.
You really have to wonder what The School sounded like at that stage. By rights they should have been rough and fumbling as spiritual forefathers Belle and Sebastian were in their shambolic formative days. Yet The School’s debut album, Loveless Unbeliever, is so polished that one half suspects they just spent several years in the rehearsal studio before nonchalantly strolling onto the gig circuit.
From The Ramones to the Gossip, the DIY scene has long been influenced by the output of Tamla Motown and the Phil Spector-produced girl groups of the 60s. Yet rarely have they channelled these influences so slavishly, or so beautifully.
The band is essentially the baby of frontwoman Liz Hunt, whose crystal pure, marvellously unforced tones take centre stage throughout. From the sublime call-and-response cooing of the radiant opener Let It Slip, to the moment she’s pours herself like a glowing balm over I Don’t Believe in Love, a duet with gravel-voiced indie artist Rob Jones, Hunt is mesmerising. The band’s immensely accomplished arsenal of sobbing strings, warm patters of piano, twanging guitars and perky handclaps create a period-authentic backdrop, but her voice is The School’s soul, melodious but with the untrained charm of Mary Weiss, Ronnie Spector et al, pure and pretty as the morning light.
Admittedly some may find the totality of Loveless Unbeliever rather wet: there are no belters here, just mid-paced ballads whose musings on unfaithful men and the downside of love tend to come across like something of a pastiche of Hunt’s favourite lyrics. If this record was released in 1964, The Shangri-Las probably wouldn’t be losing too much sleep. But for a bunch of kids from Cardiff in the year 2010, this is pretty damn remarkable.