Teachers come in all shapes and sizes – those you fear, those that inspire you to greatness, those with boundless enthusiasm and those who have sadly lost their drive. So, into which camp do International Teachers Of Pop fall?
Well, they certainly can’t be accused of lacking enthusiasm. From the opening bars of ‘After Dark’ to the final note of ‘Oh Yosemite’, their self-titled debut album is a 40-minute lesson in unadulterated joy. Each track bounds along with carefree abandon on a wave of pulsating beats and bubbling arpeggiators, topped with hushed, sugary vocals from The Soundcarriers’ Leonore Wheatley.
And in terms of pedigree, they fare well too. Alongside Wheatley, the band comprises Sheffield songwriting duo Adrian Flanagan and Dean Honer, both of The Eccentronic Research Council and The Moonlandingz (also featuring members of Fat White Family). Honer cut his teeth in the All Seeing I, who briefly lit up the charts with their 1998 cover of ‘The Beat Goes On’. Between them, they’ve worked with everyone from Jarvis Cocker to Britney Spears.
So, they know a thing or two about pop, and they’re keen to share the tricks they’ve learnt. There’s an obvious love of their craft, much of the record created on vintage analogue synths and drum machines. Sonic flourishes abound aplenty. In fact, rarely is a brief pause in the onslaught not filled with a swoosh or a gurgle or a pop. But within this maximalist soundscape, the vocals sometimes seem a little superfluous – like they’ve tried to squeeze them into something that was already complete.
‘She Walks In Beauty’ is one of the only times the vocals are given space to breathe, a welcome change in pace and tone. The haunting vocal refrain, recalling Warpaint at their most hypnotic, suggests Wheatley has much more to offer the partnership if only given the room.
Teaching is an under-appreciated art form, requiring a careful balance of components. When International Teachers Of Pop get the balance right, it’s sublime. 'Interstellar' fires on all cylinders, with its huge chorus and a fantastic wobbly synth riff (a melody which may or may not have been ‘borrowed’ from Blondie’s 'Rapture'). In this instance, the vocals and production enhance each other perfectly, rather than competing for the spotlight.
The group cite Giorgio Moroder, Pet Shop Boys, Kraftwerk, and fellow Sheffield synthsters The Human League as influences. But while these acts are notable for pushing the genre forwards, International Teachers Of Pop seem content to ape their heroes rather than tread new ground. And that’s fine too, when you’ve got the tunes. They definitely have a few – ‘The Age Of The Train’ is another banger, contrasting the drudgery of the modern commuter with a groove propelled along by its skulking Thriller-esque bassline. Occasionally, though, it resembles a 90s throwback, the result sounding dated rather than retro.
There’s much to be admired here. It’s a self-assured, hook-laden set, and it’s exciting to imagine what they’ll do next as they settle into their roles. Yet pop has many facets beyond the narrowly-defined version presented here. While this may just be the first of many lessons, it would be nice to see some of these explored on future releases.
Words: Felix Rowe
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