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Live Review: English Teacher @ The Atlantis — 6/9/24

There used to be a time where the only place to get new music recommendations would be:

  1. Word of mouth 
  2. Shows
  3. Radio

This, of course, was before streaming and catered music apps, so there was an element of “Whoa!” to it all back then.  

It just happened that the way I ended up with my ears glued to the speakers as British band English Teacher’s debut full-length, This Could Be Texas, was through that old medium, the radio. And like a bolt out of the blue it really did bring back old memories of the unexpected song that changes the trajectory of the day. That song, “The World’s Biggest Paving Slab,” coincidentally was the first song the quartet performed during their recent stop at The Atlantis in front of a packed crowd. 

The entire debut record is hard to pin down. From lush dreamy guitar pop to angular experimentation — sometimes in the same song! — there’s not a dull spot on the album’s hour-long run time. 

Starting their set with what sounded like a sound collage, things kicked into gear with a thrumming bass line followed by drums and Lily Fontaine’s unmistakable voice at The Atlantis on June 9. Some bands take a few songs in before hitting their stride, but English Teacher seemed to hit the ground running as they went from the aforementioned “The World’s Biggest Paving Slab” to “I’m Not Crying, You’re Crying” without pausing for a breath. 

The band comprising English Teacher are Lily Fontaine (vocals/guitar/keys), Lewis Whiting (guitar), Nicholas Eden (bass), and Douglas Frost (drums/keys/vocals). But the band’s sound was definitely bigger than the sum of its parts.

There’s a movement that seems to be more present in a lot of new music that incorporates a sing-speech or sprechgesang that draws as much from The Fall and Lou Reed as it does from contemporaries like Dry Cleaning and Black Country, New Road. And while English Teacher certainly incorporate elements of sing-speech, especially on songs like “Broken Biscuits,” Lily Fontaine doesn’t rely on that vehicle alone to get those feelings across.

Watching English Teacher, again, I was reminded of how much fun a show can be. Clearly I was seeing this band for the first time, but the performance gave me that sense of wonder when I was back at the old 9:30 Club or Baltimore’s Memory Lane (that sadly shuddered its doors way too soon).

After playing a particularly energetic “Polyawkward,” Fontaine told the audience that it was the first time in over a year that the song had been played. “Anything for you, Washington!,” she called out.

Watch the official music video for “The World’s Biggest Paving Slab” by English Teacher on YouTube:

The beautiful spacey wash intro “Not Everybody Gets to Go To Space” gave way to jangling guitar lines as Fontaine sang one of my favorite lines “Not everybody gets to go to space and that’s OK / You’re too busy here, how could you fit it in? / Plus if everybody got to go to space / How would space feel like a win?” Almost answering my own thoughts about the song, Lily Fontaine spoke up. “That song is about the unequal opportunities afforded to different peoples in society… I was going to try to say something profound then, but my brain is just spaghetti,” Fontaine laughed with the crowd.

As the band started on the piano-based piece “This Could Be Texas,” it went from slow and deliberate to almost jaunty and then to almost a baroque exercise that then turned into one of the heavier songs in the set.

Standing on the monitor, Fontaine reached out across the crowd as sang “Nearly Daffodils,” another fast and fun song from the band’s debut.

“If you like dancin’ move to the front,” Lily Fontaine said, ushering in the band’s single “R&B.” “If you’re fit move to the front. In English, ‘fit’ means attractive… it’s subjective.”

As English Teacher wrapped up their regular set with “Albert Road” they came back out to encore with “Good Grief,” a song from their first EP, written as the band said, about the pandemic.

An amazing first USA tour start for this band I certainly can’t wait to see more from in the near future.

English Teacher continue their tour through the Summer and it’s one not to miss.

The setlist:

The World’s Biggest Paving Slab
I’m Not Crying, You’re Crying
Broken Biscuits
Polyawkward
Albatross
Not Everybody Gets to Go to Space
Mastermind Specialism
You Blister My Paint
This Could Be Texas
Nearly Daffodils
R&B
Albert Road

Encore:
Good Grief

Here are more photos of English Teacher performing at The Atlantis on Sunday, June 9, 2024. All photos copyright and courtesy of David LaMason.

And here are photos of Pretty Bitter opening at The Atlantis on June 9, 2024.