Doomy + droll sprechgesang styles could be about to get a bigger and even more compelling revival
I was on my third or fourth listen to Polyawkward and was scrolling through Twitter when a post caught my eye. “I saw there was this band called English Teacher…”, he would say, “and you won’t believe what they look like.”
I clicked on the thread – as the edgy vocals and metallic clank of percussion on the EP’s third track “Mental Maths” slipped through my headphones – and found the responses to be intertwined with a similar kind of moralizing cynicism. “As a person mostly into the post punk wave that we’ve had for the last two years: let’s shut it down” said one, “Let me guess. Wet leg?” read another.
At a time when social media and the self-proclaimed upper echelons of the music press are awash with similar mockery of promising bands on rapid upward trajectories, it’s no surprise that English Teacher’s stellar series of early releases have dragged on. in the skeptics….that post was just one of a series of coy critiques of the UK music scene’s current penchant for spoken vocals and sulky guitar lines.
But the more I listened polyclumsythe complex and endearing five-track span, plus the Leeds-based quartet proved that – rather than losing its voice as some have claimed – the doom and droll sprechgesang styles could be on the verge of a greater renaissance and even more convincing.
Ripping through a carefully assembled plexus of razor-sharp (and darkly comical) lyrics, edgy vocals and rocking percussion, polyclumsy mixes the anxieties of life as a young 20-something with more terse social issues and quasi-political debates – and all with deft precision.
Edgy melodies spill over to meticulously textured instrumental sounds on the title track “Polyawkward,” while “A55” unfolds like some sort of twisted Homeric epic, if the ancient Greeks had a word for it. “fear of beer”. On ‘Mental Maths’ singer Lily Fontaine teases as a nervous leader, before boasting of her stature as a poet and songwriter on ‘Yorkshire Tapas’ – a piece of spoken word poetry that nods to roots group Nordic experiences, the romantic implications of a trip to IKEA, and a night of pool and pints in the local.
A definite highlight, however, comes in the form of ‘Good Grief’ – a shrewd satire of England’s miscalculated public health initiatives told as a blossoming romance between star-crossed lovers Track and Trace. Blending vivid pop culture references with a more heartfelt political memorandum – and coming as perhaps the only song written about COVID that is both funny and timeless – the track rushes into a quivering maelstrom of cowbells, shaky returns and cymbal beats that ring louder than the futile 8 p.m. applause of meek-minded politicians on their doorsteps.
Fergal Kinney of Quietus dubbed the current rise in bands talking instead of singing as “discharge sprechgesang”. With their satirical fictional characters, topical political commentary, and ready-made series of snubs from the depths of the Twittersphere, English Teacher might well have been well on the way to being thrust into Kinney’s carefully confined box. “sound snapshot”. But on polyclumsy – a slick, demonic debut album from a band that has already shown they can do so much more – English Teacher proves that sprechgesang is meant for so much more than scrap metal.
Polyawkward is out now.
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