The thing about The School is that they’re adorable. I find it difficult to give their sophomore album anything but a 5, because look at their wittle whiskers and those big eyes — they so want just to be petted, but then they get all fake-aloof and pretend they’re not interested and… I’m sorry, I’m talking about cats again. All of the above nonetheless applies. But as we would with online dating or with human-animal relationships, we might ask: how should we do the job of ‘reading,’ of discourse, interpretation, and ‘schooling’? In a piece on the latter (as pedagogy), Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick (of Epistemology of the Closet fame) argues that when cats bring in half-dead mice and other creatures, they’re not making a charming yet gruesome mistake about what gifts humans would appreciate; rather — because they do this for their kittens, to teach them how to hunt — they’re pointing out to us that we’re inadequate cats, and trying to help us better ourselves.
Elsewhere in the same volume, Sedgwick draws a distinction between reading in the “reparative” and the “paranoid” style. In their stylized language of the crush and the disappointment, the heart and the head, The School explore both the paranoia of the smitten (a universe of meaning to be endlessly puzzled out in a word, a glance, a Facebook “like”) and the reparative, though possibly self-destructive, act of abandoning one’s better judgement even in the face of the other’s indifference. Reading itself is an act of generosity, in that it’s an opening to the past, to something that has been created in a time that no longer exists. Through bringing us their breezy yet serious retro pop, The School also feel as generous as the love that forms their constant refrain.
Love, we’ve all heard, isn’t like a jar of honey that runs out, and frontwoman Liz Hunt’s voice, which sits somewhere between bell-clear and siren-smoky, invites that comparison. As Baudelaire wrote of a cat,
Tant son timbre est tendre et discret;
Mais que sa voix s’apaise ou gronde,
Elle est toujours riche et profonde.
C’est là son charme et son secret.
But even if love isn’t finite, it may be doled out in dollops over time — a taste, not a mouthful, of miele. The School’s first album, Loveless Unbeliever, was one of 2010’s finest, and funnest, moments. They’re not doing anything world-breaking in terms of originality, but as purveyors of girl-group-style 60s chamber pop that eschews both the indie-er moments of a project like God Help the Girl and the Wall of Sound echo chamber, they’re more or less alone in today’s field. They bring this sound to a pinnacle in moments like the wiggly, joyful organ line of “Never Thought I’d See The Day” or the gorgeous brass of “Where Does Your Heart Belong?” That said, Reading Too Much Into Things Like Everything doesn’t quite measure up to the debut in terms of constant hooks and consistency. And it’s a shame they didn’t include B-side “When He Kisses Me,” with its irresistible rhymes: “When he kisses me I’m so ecstatic/ He thinks it’s me being overdramatic.”
In The Animal That Therefore I Am (More to Follow), celebrity poststructuralist and word lover (“I am a word lover, and I love to read…”), Jacques Derrida begins with the image of his embarrassment at being naked in the gaze of a cat. Derrida asks: “In fact, is one ever alone with a cat? Or with anyone at all?” I’m not sure if one’s alone with an album, particularly in the meta-level case where the classic pop problem of aloneness is central. If one is not alone, one’s imperfections are revealed, but one may also believe that one is alone because of one’s imperfections. Still, to get back to our honeyed cliché and to our indie paradigm, imperfections can’t be wished away; but, as The Tears put it, that doesn’t mean they’re not what makes one beautiful in the eyes of the observer’s animal soul.