Picture the scene. Late night New York at Piano's Bar, snugly fit around the corner from Arlene's Grocery and the Mercury Lounge. Film School are wrapping up a swirling, sweat-infused set but the bass-head isn't quite working anymore. As a matter of fact, bassist Justin LaBo may have just cranked his way through a tune and blown out the damn thing. On listening to the record it would be easy to assume Film School might be adept - sensational even - live. The ascending atmospherics of the music, though often brooding and self-contained, has an epic hypertension that explodes (quite literally it seems) when experienced live. In short, Film School rock.
Film School today are San Francisco based: Krayg Burton (vocals/guitar), Nyles Lannon (guitar/vocals), Justin LaBo (bass), Donny Newenhouse (drums) and Jason Ruck (keyboards). Burton - Film School’s founder - started off releasing tracks on Metoo! Records (a three track 7” entitled I’m Not Working). Soon after Burton’s determination and dedication meant a group of musicians were sought to guest on the debut Brilliant Career, also on Metoo! Records, released in 2001, including Film School’s present members Lannon, (who Burton met after submitting Film School music to a website Lannon worked on) and Ruck (who met Burton after seeing him play at a local African restaurant), as well as appearances on various songs from Tim Mitchell (The Decoration), Scott Kannberg (Pavement, Preston School Of Industry), Kyle Statham (Fuck) and Mauri Skinfill (Elephone).
Lannon, a musician in his own right, was simultaneously at work releasing his own electronic solo album Astronomy for Children (awarded BBC’s ‘Album of the Week’). This was released under the name n.Ln on Highpoint Lowlife Records (and followed later, in 2004, with the critically acclaimed solo acoustic/electronic album on Badman Recording Co. entitled Chemical Friends, this time released under the name n.lannon). Prolifically Lannon was – during the making of Brilliant Career - also involved with electronica outfit Technicolor alongside LaBo. So roll on Brilliant Career tour and Labo is the obvious choice to hit the roads on bass. Alongside Ben Montesano on drums the touring line-up was almost as Film School are today – Burton, Lannon, LaBo and Ruck.
2003 saw the recording of 4-track EP ‘Always Never’ for Amazing Grease Records (and a year later the recording of the track ‘Harmed’ which appeared on Fierce Panda’s 2004 EP featuring various U.S. bands). More touring ensued, this time with drummer Newenhouse, owner of SF recording studio The Center of the Mile and musician (Holly Golightly, Hammerdown Turpentine) onboard. It was the inevitable coming together of like-minded talents from the local music scene – very San Francisco-esque.
So here are Film School, their story is a fairly long and windy one, but the result is a band with impressively eclectic influences (Floyd, The Who, obscure electronica, metal, drone, alternative 80’s), a grandiose collective musical history and a healthy bout of critical acclaim. Rave live reviews in the NME and The Fly followed their UK visit in September 2004, where they played at the Barfly and Metro, as well as supporting TV On The Radio at The Garage. Roll on an appearance at Austin’s SXSW in March 2005 and The Sunday Times Culture Magazine hailed them as one of the new bands that “should be huge” and Music Week included them in their rundown of the “eleven buzz bands on the brink of greater things”. While back in their homelands of San Francisco, Film School had long since been discovered and heavily supported by local radio. Aaron Axelson of Live 105 as well as Seattle’s KEXP began playing them and almost overnight sold out shows and the music industry at their feet.
So on to the present year. In 2005 Film School signed to Beggars Banquet Worldwide and finishing touches were made on recording their new single ‘On and On’ and the forthcoming self-titled album (set for release on 26th September 2005 and January 2006 respectively).
The creative strategy is that of collective writing and self-production. It’s a process of experimenting with sounds, taking as much time as needed and getting the best outcome possible. It’s a process that began when Film School worked together on Always Never. On such early recordings, you can hear the rumblings of the sound that comes full-fledged on this new album. An infectious guitar haze glides effortlessly through the tracks with winding melodies wrapping around their legions of layered chords – at times a gentle atmospheric purr, then in sudden infectious bursts it builds to something powerful and angular. Drums veer from the softly brushed and sublimely rhythmic West Coat style to a pounding force directing the songs.
The keyboards add a melodic diversity to the music that other straight guitar bands lack. It’s the synth led sound that simultaneously recalls early eighties alternative bands like Echo and The Bunnymen, while delivering something unique and unequalled amongst their contemporaries. All complimented by Burton’s soaring yet plaintive vocals adding a layer of hooks and a focused, mesmerising conviction.
The first track proper, and single, ‘On and On’ is nothing short of hypnotic. It’s a continuous ascending spiral both musically and vocally, while also remaining introverted, locked in it’s own contained world. It’s a darkly brooding, emotive track yet also somehow uplifting in it’s passion. Reminiscent, not so much in sound, but in effect, to Joy Division’s ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ - at once bleak and optimistic, intelligently self-contained yet soaring to atmospheric heights above and beyond the music itself. A song so powerfully emotive it should leave the listener low, but yet it exhilarates and inspires with every listen.
‘Like You Know’ is the softer side of Film School. Distorted, twisted sounding guitars take centre-stage, weaving in and out. As bewitching as My Bloody Valentine, with Burtons tender, poetic lyrics - as always engaging – laying all out bare, “you fall like you know, you leave like you don’t”.
Other tracks such as ‘Harmed’, ‘Pitfalls’ and ‘Breet’ show a jauntier side to Film School. Faster, captivating pounding drum and guitar led tracks recalling some of the finest early eighties alternative bands - Ride, The Stone Roses, Chapterhouse - who, like Film School, could make infectious music that played with a pop aesthetic, while still remaining layered, powerful and sophisticated. The immediate and unforgettable ’11-11’ offers a perfect verse-chorus-verse, evocative of The Cure at the height of their classic song-writing career. Deliriously pop while retaining it’s obvious edge and distinction.
It rocks, it’s memorable, and yet it sounds somehow familiar. These qualities by themselves would be outstanding traits, but together they transcend pop music into a place inhabited by very few bands, they have cultural resonance.
Welcome Film School. Music needs them.