Film School – Hideout

Film School

Most of the songs on five-piece Film School’s junior album (sophomore album on record label Beggars Banquet) pass with flying colors, while a few barely make the grade. The band formed in the late 1990’s in San Francisco, California and has been branded as part of a nouvelle vague of guitar-centric shoegazer revivalists (a whole continent away from where it all began), but there is a variety of instrumentation on Hideout, including keyboards, piano, and strummed guitar, and dynamic, melodic song structures, that attest to the fact that Film School has studied more than one musical genre.

Film School doesn’t totally fit the definition of “shoegazer” in the sense of creating wisps of suspended-in-air ephemera or of scaling heavenly heights of guitar-driven grandeur (á la Slowdive or Catherine Wheel). The band has researched such masters of noise, distortion, and melody as My Bloody Valentine (Colm O’Ciosoig, the drummer of My Bloody Valentine, is even enlisted on an album track), Swervedriver, and Jesus And Mary Chain, and also, based on certain songs, The Cure, New Order, and 1980’s-era dark electronic bands.

What the band has learned is to craft kinetic dream-pop to space-rock songs with solid verse and catchy chorus structures and layers of saturated guitar and keyboard notes and vocals that remain in the listener’s mind long after the song has ended.

The opener “Dear Me” is an example of this winning formula, with verses that contain supple, textured guitar, a lo-fi sonic grumbling, drumbeat, and shaken-sand sound, and with lead singer Greg Bertens sounding like Evan Dando in his clarity and laid-back tone. The song then gains intensity and a faster pace on the chorus, with dense, shimmering guitar and added vocal touches like wordless, floating “ooohs” in the background. By the time the third chorus round hits, a smooth push of areo-guitar builds amid the vocal uplift, as Greg sings “We can hide out, we can hide here too, it will take us back to me and you…days and nights inside your room”.

The fluidity and saturation of sound continues on “Lectric”, with its fast drumbeat, flowing undercurrent of bass, and guitar frisson. It’s like a sleek bullet train on a swerving track, careening, but gliding along, sure of its journey and destination. The vocals on the verse are hazy and sung in such a high register that it’s difficult to tell if it’s Greg singing, or bassist Lorelei Plotczyk singing! Another guitar comes in, playing high, distressed notes, and on the chorus there is a piling on of layers of sound that continue through most of the song, from tambourine hits, to cymbal bash, to bell-like notes that accent the doubled vocals (one in a lower tone and one at a higher pitch).

“Meanmedian Mode” is extremely short at 15 seconds, a cycle of guitar wash played in triplicate, and so transient that it leaves no impression.

After this slight detour, the album gets back on track with the darkly catchy “Sick Hipster Nursed By Suicide Girl”, featuring low, deadened, sing-talking vocals by Greg, in the vein of Neil Halstead of Slowdive on “Some Velvet Morning”, a ghostly backdrop of higher vocals courtesy of Lorelei, the slippery pull of the bass line, and wavering guitar line, calling to mind Joy Division or the more tuneful Jesus And Mary Chain songs.

If there’s a letdown to Film School’s songs, it can be found in some of the repetitive, simple, short-phrase lyrics, which are in evidence here as Greg sings in a plain tone on the chorus “It’s doubtful you’re alive. She’s always by your side.” against a kicky drumbeat, cymbal shimmer, and added keyboard notes. By the four-minute mark, the “proper” song is done, but the instruments continue for another two minutes with a couple of noisy guitar echoing each other, trying to create a hypnotic lull that My Bloody Valentine does so well, but the spell is broken by the brisk drumbeat.

An admiration for Echoes In A Shallow Bay-era Cocteau Twins is felt on “Must Try Easier”, a just-over-one-minute instrumental of two far-off guitars that slowly come into focus against a spinning-disc noise.

A love of The Cure’s song “Charlotte Sometimes”, and also “Shell” by Pale Saints, comes to the fore on “Two Kinds”, an aching lament with sustained bass line, drumbeat, fast-tapped cymbal, attenuated, 1980’s-sounding, minor-key synth violins that swell and fall (the melancholy thread that pulls the song along), and Greg singing in a bittersweetly sighing, regretful tone “There’s two kinds of love, and one we used to know…” with the shadow of Lorelei’s vocals in the background.

From that beautiful downer arises the guitar-driven “Capitalized I”, with its tribal drumbeat, circling keyboard noise, and harmonizing, but distant vocal lines, one more subdued and the other a higher range. The guitars are harsher and distorted, but don’t fill out the song at first, leaving the heavier beat, spacey keyboard sounds, and hazy, sighing vocals to take center stage.

The vocals of Kevin Shields and Bilinda Butcher of My Bloody Valentine are lovingly recreated here in all their unperturbed, breathy glory, one vocal line in a higher tone, and the other lower and hollowed out. By the midpoint of the song, the sighing vocals disappear and reappear again, along with cymbal crashes, sustained, wavering organ notes, and a distorted, slowly planing upward guitar line that never achieves the sonic majesty of Slowdive.

Taking a cue from Interpol, “Go Down Together” rides along with a tugging, loping drumbeat on the chorus, but before that point, it’s all light, upbeat keyboard notes, then drumbeat, and strummed guitar, and on top of that, another guitar line and Greg’s hushed vocals and Lorelei in the background, sighing and cooing like Bilinda Butcher. The chorus ushers in slowly swirling, expansive guitar reverb and flute-like keyboard notes as Greg sings hopefully “We can run there together, we can go down together” until the guitars dissipate and harpsichord notes come in. Possibly in a verbal nod to Ride on the verse, Greg clearly sing-talks “I’m still looking for a sign. Could we leave this all behind?”. As the guitar wash continues, it all becomes a bit repetitive as the verse and chorus sections evenly alternate several times.

While Greg’s vocals recall Robert Smith and Rob Dickinson of Catherine Wheel on “Compare”, with his insular, resigned tone, the instrumentals emulate the hypnotic pull of My Bloody Valentine with a sustained, warped organ sound and light guitar agitation. Once again, however, the chorus refrain is repeated way too much, putting a crimp in the emotionally delicate and aurally lulling song, as Greg exclaims over and over “I can’t believe the things that you say”.

The more atmospheric “Florida”, with its darker drumbeat, is a teeming sea of short-phrase and wordless vocals, with high and airy singing (and sometimes lower tones) from Greg, half-buried in the overall sound. There are lots of layers to this trance-inducing song, from the bleeping keyboard notes, space-like laser blasts, chiming guitar notes, subdued, low-register strings, to the hazy, sighing, tiered vocals.

“Blizzard Scout” is another short (around two minutes) and not exactly memorable number, with drawn-out, low strings, the chug of a train, sing-talking vocals in the distance, and a slowly brightening sound.

Lorelei is in the spotlight on the verses of the plainer, low-key “Plots And Plans”, with her sweetly zoned-out vocals reminiscent of Bilinda Butcher amid the sinuous-squiggle, My Bloody Valentine-esque synth sounds, drumbeat, and tambourine shake. When Greg sings on the chorus, however, in a too-plain tone, like Rob Dickinson without the British accent, he breaks the soporific mood of the song.

The album ends with a blast of dark guitar fuzz and brighter, organ notes on “What I Meant To Say”, taking a page from the Jesus And Mary Chain and A Place To Bury Strangers handbook (well, for the guitar part at least). Unfortunately, where Greg’s vocals should be all menacing and foreboding, they are plain and high, not quite going along with the ominous vibe of the tune, and the searing, burnished guitars are wasted on the too-simple lyrics “I know you’re not to blame…”.