At first listen, the new Film School is almost off-puttingly polished: It's one of the best-sounding self-produced, headphones-only albums by a local band I've heard of late, blending the poppier hook-and-groove singles-craft of "On and On" and the elastic, massive, 4AD-ish groove of "Pitfalls" with gorgeous wall-of-psych longer pieces such as the airy, multitextured, Floyd-drenched "He's a Deep Deep Lake," and "11:11," which moves from an almost early U2-like twitch into glitched-up drone before finally ascending into a dervish of guitar noise.
The mixture of tones was deliberate. "We actually value a record that comes from different directions and has a different sound here and there, as long as it's cohesive, and we spent a lot of time trying to make it cohesive," wise man on campus Lannon says, sprawled in a lounger. "The record actually has, I think, a unique flow to it. It kind of takes you on this ride."
Just don't call them "shoegazer." "We just like [My Bloody Valentine's Loveless] because it's really textured and spacey, not because it's guys in bowl cuts staring at their shoes," LaBo gripes.
LONG TIME COMING
Much like their six-minute singles, it took a while to get to Film School. The band that began in 2001 as a live ensemble charged with playing ex-Pinq member Burton's first Film School self-released album, Brilliant Career, has since become a full-fledged collaborative entity, with plenty of production experience courtesy of Lannon, LaBo, and longtime Bottom of the Hill soundperson Newenhouse (who replaced Ben Montesano in Film School when the latter got married about a year ago). Lannon has worked as Azusa Plane and N.Lannon, LaBo has recorded as Technicolor, and Newenhouse has drummed with Holly Golightly and Hammerdown Turpentine.
They started working on Film School in 2004, turning to three different producers before finally deciding to do it themselves in Newenhouse's studio, where they cut five newer songs and mixed in older dreamier material recorded in Lannon's bedroom.
"We actually wasted six month's worth of time on one song," Newenhouse says. "That was a real drag. Technically, it was difficult. I think [the producer's] idea of what he wanted it to sound like didn't really mesh with ours. That's when we realized we should just do this ourselves."
"I haven't been back here since we recorded," Burton marvels from the corner, a stocking cap pulled over his ears. "I'm starting to remember those eight-hour days, looking round here – it's like, oh god."
Since the album spans such a long period, one wouldn't expect the songs to have much in common with each other, though Burton swears they do: "Maybe there's a little bit of a theme about trying to move forward and feeling a little stuck." And perhaps that has something to do with the long, drawn-out making of Film School? "Maybe!" he says. "I think it might be just getting older and trying to make those next steps in life."
Beggars Banquet first made contact with Film School's manager two years ago when the band played with TV on the Radio in the UK. It took about a year of e-mails and talk before a deal was struck, around the time when the album was completed. "It took basically all of last year until the dust settled," Lannon says. "Is it even settled yet? I don't even know. On this last tour we were like OK, it's official, right? We're spending money, this advance. I think once the money is in your account, the thing is really happening."