<i>The New School</i> surprisingly optimistic

The album was originally released in Sweden in 2005.
This is the actual cover, we swear. Courtesy of Modular

 You remember that ironic kid in your English class who wore all the band T-shirts and found motifs in "Catcher in the Rye" your teacher didn't even realize were there? You thought for sure he got straight A's, but then you found out he barely passed because he spent half his time copying Snoop Dogg lyrics into his notebook and never did any of the homework but instead wrote essays that were seemingly just as time-consuming that challenged the parameters of the course as rudimentary and blamed the process for the downfall of literature in youth culture. Well, that kid grew up to be The Tough Alliance.

The title track from The New School seems to illustrate this in its closing lyrics. "We'll never fall in line/Can't classify our kind/The new school." After several listens, I have absolutely no idea if this is a play at irony or an earnest hope. But I imagine it to be a large dose of both, thus displaying the contradicting themes of TTA. Much of this album could surely be deemed a critique and at times even parody of the world of modern pop music, but this same album proves that this is the world they want to nestle themselves inside of to dream forever.

The New School was originally released in Sweden, the duo's home, in 2005. The album quickly catapulted TTA into the forefront of a new and exciting local scene and simultaneously made them one of the most popular and polarizing local acts. This summer, one of their EPs (A New Chance) finally made its way stateside, with finally created enough buzz to allow this debut gem from their collection to make the trip over the pond as well.

The band has musically progressed a great deal since The New School, partially evident on their new self-reflexive single "Neo Violence." But this album also proves they never would have had to if they so chose. Pop music is simple at heart: This is what allows it to be universal. And whether you get caught up in their overall message or their nonsensical lines like "We got our own jihad if you know what I mean" (we don't, by the way), you simply can't deny that this album is the heart of pop music, even if it's not completely sure it wants to be. This is one of those beautifully rare albums that could work in its near entirety on pop radio, at your friendly neighborhood hipster party or at da club.

The standout track of the album, "Koka-Kola Veins," manages to become of the catchiest, most undeniably contagious pop songs of the last few years while essentially building itself on pop music parody. Its "blah blah blah blah, we don't use our brains" chorus and sugarcoated references seem to take a direct stab at the generic commodity pop music can be. And yet, they don't seem overly concerned whether they're part of the problem or the solution with lines like "We tell ourselves there's nothing to achieve/Just wanna have some fun before we leave." This sort of simultaneous slap-in-the-face-meets-warm-embrace-of-pop-music seems epitomized on the Jens Lekman covered "Take No Heroes," where the duo pays homage to the stars of pop music past, from Brian Wilson to Biggie, while still maintaining a distance from anything resembling reverence with the thesis "Take no heroes/Only inspiration."

Possibly the most refreshing quality of The New School is its surprising, overlying optimism. As Americans, we're not usually that accustomed to our optimism living so close to our irony. "In the Kitchen" states "You spoke to me but I was flyin'/Live forever or die tryin'/I don't give a fuck if life is hard/'Cause I found my bodyguard." The bodyguard that allows them to live forever is pop music, and like the literary critic-turned-author, they are now helping the rest of us feel invincible too. 


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