- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Film School


Beggars Banquet

The current incarnation of Film School — out today with its new CD, “Hideout” — is very different from the one that released a critically acclaimed self-titled album in 2006.

Former sound man Dave Dupuis is the new guitarist, having replaced Nyles Lannon. Drummer James Smith took over for Donny Newenhouse. New bassist Lorelei Plotczyk doubles as a backup singer, adding a dose of femininity to what had been an all-male show. More than that, frontman Greg Bertens decided to stop spelling his name “Krayg Burton,” to the confusion of Web searchers everywhere.

The band also has gotten into the advertising game, providing the soundtrack to an online marketing effort by Microsoft featuring comedian Demetri Martin.

The impetus for all the change appears to be the theft of the group’s touring van from a Philadelphia parking lot in 2006. According to one account, the loss of some effects pedals proved especially discombobulating to the band’s live performances. Though there is no shortage of distortion, reverb and other effects, Film School seems to be striving for an airier, more atmospheric pop sound. The reduction in sonic clutter plays well with Mr. Bertens’ sinister, rangy voice.

The hit of the new album is bound to be “Two Kinds,” which uses a synth line that matches a gritty, low unadorned guitar line with a synth part that sounds like the out-of-the-box cello sound from a low-rent Casio keyboard. The track has that strange, alluring post-punk quality of mixing downbeat and upbeat moods to produce a floating emotional quality — a sort of psychic holding pattern. “Go Down Together” uses a similar mix of keyboard and guitar, but here Mr. Bertens offers a softer, more restrained vocal line.

“Lectric,” the album’s second offering, is a bit of an anomaly with its tooth-rattling punk-rock bass line and a choppy, aggressive rhythmic attack. There is more keyboard here and less guitar than on the other tracks, and the falsetto vocal line gives the track a bit of a New Order feel. The enticingly titled “Sick Hipster Nursed by a Suicide Girl” is more typical of Film School’s post-punk pop sound — a clipped but insistent drumbeat playing just under Mr. Bertens’ growling vocal track, which shifts from tenor to baritone and back again. Mr. Dupuis adds a pleasingly meandering solo that recalls Dean Wareham’s Galaxie 500 guitar excursions.

There is an overarching brooding quality to the music that may feel familiar to fans of Echo & the Bunnymen, Interpol and a hundred other lesser lights. Though Film School tends toward the exceptional end of this cluster of groups — in terms of songwriting and musicianship — it’s still music for people more inclined to standing still than dancing.

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