School Damage sound like the sort of band that might still hang out together at weekends. Not that non-School Damage bands seem exactly antisocial, but there are times when you listen to very serious music or look at a very serious album cover and you reckon that, after the photo shoot and recording sessions, the folk involved maybe go for a perfunctory round at the pub, then one by one make their excuses and slip off home.
Not so, School Damage. As you listen to their debut album, you reckon they might even skip the pub altogether in favour of hanging out down the video arcade. Indeed, there’s something about their distinctive synthesiser sound that begs for it to accompany spaceship laser fire, while even their name sounds like some poorly-translated mid-eighties game about rescuing your junior high from an alien invasion or a particularly large monkey who’s done a deal with a barrel retailer.
I’ve gone on at length elsewhere about the joys of musical imperfectionism, and School Damage quickly won my heart as another band with a clear embrace of the wonky, the warbly and the ever-so-slightly off. Here, it’s that omnipresent synth, sounding like a machine that’s been switched on too long without a healthy restart, bringing with it the analogue warmth of another era. Many of its lead lines are designed to get stuck in your head, but don’t get the idea this makes things too samey: sure, sometimes it sounds like a French ambulance, but at other times it sounds like an American ambulance. In any case, damned if it ain’t all dead catchy.
Much of the lyrical matter touches lightly on matters mildly irritating or slightly mundane, variously underpinned by Carolyn Hawkins’s and Jake Robertson’s alternating lead vocals. Generally speaking, Hawkins provides swathes of distracted apathy, while Robertson comes across as a kind of overeager compère. When they team up on Cloudy Skies, the paradox of School Damage really comes to the fore: how two atypical vocal styles can combine with an out-of-tune keyboard line to create something which feels quite fragile and tender in a song mainly about the weather and the tediousness of waiting for someone running late.
But the standout track here is undoubtedly Try Something New, a masterclass in unapologetic ebullience. Like so many of the tracks which surround it, it’s kind of about being vaguely dissatisfied, a bit down in the dumps. But what the hell, it seems to say: you’re in good company and you’ve got plenty of quarters. Who’s up for Asteroids?
School Damage’s self-titled debut album was out on 2 June via Chapter Music.