If we’re being completely honest, the name English Teacher, when first heard or read, didn’t exactly fill this hack with enthusiasm. This word wanker has a vendetta against crap band names, and whilst it didn’t crowbar an unnecessary ‘v’ or mention ‘piss’ or have the word ‘girls’ in the name, it does evoke my form tutor and English comprehension teacher who was a buttoned-up, grey middle-aged lady, without an inch of rebelliousness so we never deviated from Shakespeare or the dull 18/19th-century classics like Thomas Hardy, so To Kill A Mocking Bird was right out. She was very nice but I want my bands to make me think of Hunter S Thompson, not George Eliot. Unfortunately, my school purveyors of education in the ’90s were less Andrew Lincoln in C4’s “Teachers” and more Frances McDormand in “Almost Famous”.
But as it turns out, this English Teacher are actually a 21st Century 6th Form cool supply teacher who rocks up wearing a The Cure T-shirt and drainpipe jeans as they were only asked to cover by text halfway through ‘A Forest’ the night before at Wembley Arena and haven’t been home. Kind of the middle ground where Jack Black meets Jarvis Cocker.
Which is nothing like English Teacher but rather just a metaphor for what a cool teacher might be. I’m confusing matters.
All that you really need to know is Polyawkward is a magnificent opening gambit for a band that needs to be joining the likes of Fontaines DC at the top table. Forming in Leeds only a handful of years ago, they only released their debut single a mere moment from the world closing up and burrowing itself away, which wasn’t a very nice welcome. Fortunately, they didn’t take offence and have spent the last 2 years honing their sound, ending up here with 5 tracks of kitchen sink life and all the trappings of being young and in and out of love. But it’s NOT post-punk. Contemporaries such as Black Midi and Sorry have been mentioned and that makes sense. There’s an element of the Avant-garde about them and as they say on the previous single ‘R’n’B’, appearances can be deceptive.
However, it does give them an edge. In this industry where the double P genre is banded about like spittle from Johnny Rotten’s gob, the spoken word here is less the sprechgesang many are saying and more poetry and storytelling, especially on the spellbinding ‘Yorkshire Tapas’.
The titular opening track lulls you into a sense of calm but then slaps you out of it with jagged bursts of rage. It depicts Lily preparing to leave a party for home, with an aching heart of unrequited sentiments or just lacking the courage to have it broken. “I haven’t got the appetite/I’d rather eat alone/Life is a buffet/And I’m going home.”
‘A55’ is one of the songs of the year so far, a tension-building epic Magnus Opus that explodes into life at the end, a release of deep resentment, probably about herself as it seems to be set in a toilet cubicle when particularly pissed and having made a bit of a fool of themselves, and yet, wanting to go back out, drink some more and do it all again.
Guitars straight from a horror film introduce ‘Mental Maths’ apparently about the middle aisles of Aldi but is clearly about people watching and introspective look at human behaviour. “She’s a lonely fish in the city/Looking for the swimming baths/Up there, the people are pretty/But she’s struggling with her mental maths.” There’s an anxiety about being out and about, possibly post lockdown isolation that is brilliantly articulated.
The aforementioned ‘Yorkshire Tapas’ is a beautifully poignant poem about early sparks on a first date or early meeting that develops into shopping for things for the new home they now share with the mundane things about ladles and reviews of restaurants intertwined with the burgeoning relationship. Lily Fontaine has an amazing ability to craft personal lyrics into a universal theme and be incredibly relatable and genuine.
‘Good Grief’ the first cut released at the end of last year, wraps things up with a whopping load of cowbell to ease us in. It appears to be depicting a scene of early post-lockdown, apparently the love story of “Track and Trace” and the human response to the madness of the past few years
What English Teacher are doing so well is taking angular, snarling and often brutal guitar and layering it with synths and keys and Lily’s poetic vocals for something quite unique.
This lot might just teach you something.