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English Teacher: This Could Be Texas John Robinson says English Teacher have produced his LP of the Year so far

English Teacher: This Could Be Texas

John Robinson says English Teacher have produced his LP of the Year so far

by John Robinson,
first published: April, 2024

approximate reading time: minutes

best of the year so far for me - John Robinson

This Could Be Texas
(Island Records)

A canny name to give their debut album on the eve of their first American tour, in support of IDLES, English Teacher follow the promise of their superb EP Polyawkward with a confident, eclectic, blisteringly intelligent album. They’re from Leeds, and their album is all about a journey, from a northern upbringing and the character of that soil to the freedoms of their time at Leeds College of Music, to the apple-eye-twinkling celebrity they now enjoy, or endure. The lyrics literalise their band name, with the influence of classic literature mixing in their work with film references, cult media and the surrealism of artists such as Charlie Kaufman. Fontaine also hits head on at her experience as a person of mixed race, and the impact that has had on her career to date. The lyrics and the music dance between domesticity and surrealism, tripping on the edges of the topics they try to describe, but with a beautiful delicacy.

The album opens with Albatross, melodic guitar, twinkling piano as the stars are weighed and found wanting, building to that stadium rock sound they may find a use for now. The World’s Biggest Paving Slab is a slanting and pulsing opening, as Lily sings about a literal paving slab, outside Colne Hall in Lancashire. “I am the world’s biggest paving slab, but I sit here quietly..” The “slab” compares itself to the Pendle witches, John Simm, the Talbot Terrorist, but concludes that it remains “the world’s smallest celebrity”: the analogy being obvious. The chorus soars, inviting us to walk all over it but watch our fucking feet, the character of the landscape being the character of our chanteuse, grit, stone, the challenge to ignore it at our peril. Broken Biscuits extends the analogy used by Jarvis Cocker in Mis-Shapes to discuss, well, broken Britain. “Can a river stop its banks from bursting? Blame the council, not the rain, no preparation for the breakdown”, Lily speak/sings over the band’s backing. The music makes nods towards avant-pop, progressive rock, there’s hints of various older bands in there, the discordant woodwind sounds here nod towards the more experimental leanings of Roxy Music, for instance. Sometimes I’m reminded of Arcade Fire, sometimes early Altered Images, the melange of positive influences here is wide. The guitar work of Lewis Whiting bounds effortlessly between clean and murky throughout the album, explosive when needed. Douglas Frost’s drumming is complex on occasion, but knows when to dial that back, to allow the vocals space to breathe. The bassist Nicholas Eden plays between all this, adding melodic flair and weight where required.

I’m Not Crying, You’re Crying is a litany of denial, the contradictions of Lily for instance, being the front leader of a band but introverted off stage, “I'm not there, I'm not sorry, I'm not out I'm not loud, I'm not holy, I'm not lonely”, with the final collapse of these hastily constructed defences, “When our walls fall down, As if we built them ourselves.” Mastermind Specialism is a gorgeous slow ballad, of indecision and regret, and doing badly on quiz shows, if you take it literally. “Pulled taut by the ultimatum, Maybe spotlights aren't for me”. A listing of specialist subjects includes Doctor Who and Doublethink, but rests on the regret of “The path not took, fork in the road”. The title track takes us to the country fair that Francis Dalton wrote about, 800 people guessing the weight of an ox together. But this is about the idiocy of crowds, not their wisdom, as the song hits its stride with a piano riff, joining her voice, reminding me now of Regina Spektor, to describe the tension and hatred of the crowd “…that town is in a state, And that state is in a country, And that country is in a bad state — There's a familiar atmosphere about the place”. There’s an extended instrumental, a syncopated pace, progressive agit-pop. We may be in Texas, but it might as well just be Doncaster again.

Not Everybody Gets to Go to Space begins with a sound collage, before its cautionary tale: if everyone gets to space, space ceases to be a “win”: its narrator doles out excuses for continuing this inequality of opportunity, which boils down, in the end to “if everybody got to go to space No one would ever want to clean”. R&B is an older, punky song which has been re-recorded: dealing with the misunderstanding and visual prejudice the band has experienced, the assumptions made about their sound based on Lily’s appearance: “The shivering truth of the matt?r is so easy to see, If I have stuff to write, th?n why don't I just write it for me?, Despite appearances, I haven't got the voice for R&B..” Nearly Daffodils is another song about regret, a lost opportunity or relationship breakdown. The poignant chorus highlights how life gets in the way of anything you plant. “Sometimes it tears like a freight train through a christening”, another instrumental break which trips and careers into a blistering declamation “Last night I dreamt that we lasted all the way till spring”.

The Best Tears of Your Life experiments with auto-tune on Lily’s voice, and creates a swamping, Radiohead influenced bed for another tale of displacement, alienation and solitude. “You can take the girl out of her comfort zone, but you can't put her back…” You Blister My Paint is a highlight for Lily’s soaring vocal, heartbreak and desire echoing against gentle piano, with appropriate electronic flourishes and strings.

Sideboob is another re-recording of an earlier song, an ode to Pendle Hill, and how “Friedrich will come out of his grave, Shelley and Byron will be on their way, Begging for my postal code”, the literary influence here again. “You take every sunset, And somehow make it sexier, With your haunted asymmetry”. The album closes with Albert Road: another truly epic stadium sound builds from simple observations of everyday northern life. The lost and disenfranchised are championed “don't take their prejudice to heart, They hate everyone, The world around them never showed, How loving can be fun”. Lily sings of the lack of opportunity, the simple ambitions and tall tales. “That’s why we are how we are, and that’s why we don’t get very far..” Lily’s voice is exceptional on this track, as a simple tune is led to a vast, although sudden conclusion.

This is an exceptional debut album, from a band still developing and musically inventive. With more sonic experimentation than they’ve previously engaged in, and highlighting their considerable individual abilities, I think they can aim a bit higher than Texas. Maybe as far as Darlington.

English Teacher

Main image by Denmarc Creary
image at the foot of the page Tatiana Pozuelo

John Robinson

Based in Scunthorpe, England. A writer and reviewer, working as a Computer Science and Media Lecturer and Educator. Sometimes accused of being a music writer called John Robinson, which is not helped by being a music writer called John Robinson. @thranjax
about John Robinson »»

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