“Sometimes I get so hopeful I make myself scared/ That I will wake up and the hope will disappear.” Everything you need to know about the Spook School’s outlook is right there in the title of their sophomore record: Try To Be Hopeful. The human (and, especially, queer) experience is typically centered around a series of letdowns followed by, if you’re lucky, a breakthrough that clicks everything into place. Hoping against hope, betting against life that things will eventually come together in the end. The effortlessly charming Edinburgh four-piece tackles life’s challenges with a rejuvenating zest. They do this by carving out their own space for themselves — whether it’s wallowing in self-pity or embracing the rollercoaster that is love, they do everything on their terms. “We don’t need you to know that we exist,” they sing on “Richard And Judy,” decrying the feeling of being marginalized in a heteronormative society. “We’ll keep on going.”
The Spook School specialize in invigorating moments in miniature — the rush of a crush, the fleeting thought that maybe you’ll be alone forever. “Speak When You’re Spoken To” gives me a lump in my throat because it’s too fucking relatable, a eulogy for every cute boy I never built up the courage to talk to: “My voice never seems to break through/ I’m always silent when I’m around you.” On “Everybody Needs To Be In Love,” they convincingly argue that “true love” is a construct we don’t need, but admit in the end that it sure would be nice to find it. “I Want To Kiss You” makes infatuation the most exciting thing ever because, well, it is — it’s an “I Really Like You” for the indie rock set.
Then there are the more specific moments, the ones that are unique to being queer. Like when your relative asks you if you’ve found a girlfriend, or if you’ve stopped liking boys yet. How do you tell them you’re in love with someone genderqueer? Or that you’re pansexual? “We are autonomous and we have desires/ and I’m so sick of pretending that I am what you are,” is their response. Even when they dig into the more academic language of inequality (“And I’ve got to accept that I’ve inherited a history of persecution and abuse/ And I’ve got to accept that I’m inheriting a privilege that I should be aware of”), they balance it out with anthemic choruses that encourage you to embrace the totality of the spectrum (“Burn masculinity!,” “I am more than just a hexadecimal”). Their analysis of relationships feels just as studied and over thought, because why would you ever think about anything else? “It’s weird how we equate fidelity with emotion, and we see jealousy as proof of devotion,” they sing on “August 17th.” Even their screams of frustration contain a desire to keep going.
There’s a giddiness to Try Not To Be Hopeful. Each note feels like the heart personified — every drum crash a sinking feeling, each riff a flutter. (They say as much on “Vicious Machine,” which likens the heart to its title.) The Spook School combine the jitteriness of the Rural Alberta Advantage with the twee-pop sensibilities of their UK contemporaries Joanna Gruesome and Trust Fund, and come up with something that’s an absolute joy to listen to, even as they delve into the messy abstractions of life. They make dance music for introverts, love songs for people who are too shy to be in love. Most times, they make it feel like everything’s going to be OK.