English Teacher Search For an Identity on This Could Be Texas

The Leeds quartet’s debut album captures a modern duality of feeling, alternating between blistering fury and lackadaisical resignation.

Music Reviews English Teacher
English Teacher Search For an Identity on This Could Be Texas

There has been no shortage of much hyped post-punk bands to emerge in Britain in recent years—with acclaimed acts like Squid, Dry Cleaning, shame and Yard Act springing to mind immediately. For some, it would appear we long ago reached an over saturation point for these bands. Abigail Morris, of another buzzed about British band The Last Dinner Party, opined earlier this year: “People don’t want to listen to post-punk and hear about the cost of living crisis any more.” But such criticisms don’t seem to have deterred newcomers to the genre, nor do they seem to have dampened the feverish excitement of the British music press at the genre’s revival. Certainly these criticisms did not deter English Teacher, the British quartet who made a name for themselves with a handful of singles and nothing more over the last year-and-change.

Like most recent sensations in post-punk, English Teacher capture a very modern duality of feeling; alternating between blistering fury and lackadaisical resignation. One minute they’re painting a devastating portrait of austerity Britain on “Broken Biscuits,” documenting splitting prescriptions and breaking the bank to replace a new pair of shoes. The next, lead singer Lily Fontaine drolly confesses to directionlessness on “Mastermind Specialism” and lists off radically different career paths ( “Singer, porn star, writer, thief”), sounding unimpressed and uninterested in them all.

But the band also has a bleeding heart that they’re not afraid to showcase in their music. Fontaine, whose lyrics are informed by her experience growing up as a young Black woman in Tory Britain, demonstrates an appreciation of the personal being political, and she imbues her music with a distinct loveability. Despite support from swathes of the British music press and being signed by Island Records (Coi Leray, Drake, Hozier), English Teacher still feel like the underdog band whose success you can’t help but root for.

By most metrics, the band’s first full length outing, This Could be Texas is a success—and by the metrics that determine career success, there’s no doubting that This Could Be Texas is a slam dunk. Boasting polished production, an accomplished band, one of the genre’s most versatile and captivating lead vocalists and an impressive range of influences that include indie rock and free jazz, This Could Be Texas is sure to establish English Teacher as a mainstay in both the post-punk genre and the British festival circuit more widely. On the surrealist, indie-prog opener “Albatross,” the band make no qualms about their ambitions—as Fontaine likens herself to a deity (“My cross flew out the window with me / When I decided to be / One of those shouty things up in the sky”). On the following “The World’s Biggest Paving Slab,” with a hooky melody that recalls Wet Leg, Fontaine offers a warning to those who consider crossing her:“I am the world’s biggest paving slab / But no one can walk over me.”

Though much of the British music press have already declared This Could Be Texas a masterpiece—shooting it straight up to the top of Metacritic for 2024 releases—the album documents a band still searching for their identity. Like many Gen-Z creatives who have spent their politically-awakened adolescence railing against inescapable systems of oppression, English Teacher are often better at knowing what they’re not than what they are. On “I’m Not Crying, You’re Crying,” Fontaine lists all the things she’s not—“lonely,” “steady,” “ready,” “holy,” “loud,” to name a few—while on “Mastermind Specialism,” she draws focus to what she lacks (“No career, no religion / Another year, no precision”). The band’s heavy deployment of cultural references, from Doctor Who to actor Lee Ingleby and the Pendle Witches, reads as a further attempt at establishing identity, this time via comparison and familiar obsessions.

Amidst the search for a definitive core, the carefully crafted and polished sound of This Could Be Texas can feel like a deliberate rejection of wilder, more thrilling roads not yet taken. “Broken Biscuits” sees an arrangement of sax, bass and piano swell as the band channels free jazz innovators like Jaimie Branch and English contemporaries like Black Country, New Road. But whereas Black Country, New Road would allow this swell to transform into a blistering crescendo, English Teacher never let it reach any sort of fever pitch. Elsewhere, on “I’m Not Crying, You’re Crying,” the band choose to somewhat bury electrifying guitar playing deeper in the mix—ultimately pitching the song closer to precision than freneticism.

The upside to all of this is that it’s all the more rewarding when the band does give in to their more idiosyncratic impulses—like on the loud-quiet “Not Everybody Gets To Go To Space” and the orchestral, autotuned “The Best Tears of Your Life.” The clear highlight of the album proves to be “R&B,” which sees the band give in to their wilder side—reaching the sort of cathartic crescendo the album could afford to utilize more often. On “R&B,” Fontaine pokes fun at the concept of genres and arbitrary boundaries more widely (“Despite appearances, I haven’t got the voice for R&B / Even though I’ve seen more Colour shows than KEXPs”). Yet, not long later, Fontaine unapologetically takes inspiration from the R&B genre via the stirring ballad “You Blister My Paint.” Ultimately, English Teacher are a band that fare best when they stop conforming to boundaries—even the ones they set for themselves.

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