ALBUM REVIEW: Beauty School – ‘Happiness’

A dog wearing a party hat

It’s not a new tale—the band who come out of nowhere with choice single after choice single, and find themselves on the cusp of beginning new favourites almost as quickly as they’ve arrived. That’s the case with Beauty School, a band for whom select cuts this year have really struck a chord in the right circles, notably Pawn Shop Jewels as a seamless mix of big-hearted pop-rock with the intricacy and lyrical wherewithal of Midwest emo.

The two styles honestly sit as pretty natural bedfellows, especially on a full album that presents a wider, more detailed spectrum of how they can work together. Happiness seldom comes across like a mould-breaker, but as a showcase of where Beauty School’s creative heart and richness lies, you’ll rarely find a fault to pick. It’s akin to the sort of emo Jimmy Eat World most notably embody, in humble, everyman presentation as a means of keeping everything out the way of killer melodies and hooks.

It’s kind of astonishing how deftly Beauty School pull that off on their first try. There’s not a dud to be found, but more accurately, they’ve pinpointed such a sharp nexus between pop-rock and emo that’s always so empowered and forceful. Pawn Shop Jewels is still one of the prime examples, as ebullient riffs are sprinkled with fiddly guitar flourishes and finished with a fresh varnish, but that’s far from an isolated instance of that working. Oak is about as melodically satisfying as it gets; Monster and Dry Socket channel an energy not dissimilar to a more upbeat Deaf Havana; and as a whole, the album carries itself with such an unflinching passion baked deep within.

Of course, for an emo album, that’s no great piece of conjecture. Beauty School’s writing is driven by its forward-moving determination, mostly in frontman Joe Cabrera’s ongoing healing that’s a palpable structure across the album. It’s the flair in the writing that defines Happiness most of all, the more verbose storytelling that weaves in past relationships that might still flicker in Cabrera’s mind, with scenes and feelings of growing up that, years later, still haven’t completely left him. Some of the album’s most effective moments are where that writing fully crystallises alongside the instrumental sharpness and precision, like in the shaken, more destitute Only Nature, or the skyscraping closer Junior.

Cabrera himself proves to be a strong presence at getting the most from these songs, too. He’s not a terrific technical vocalist—he’s got a defined, limited range that’s definitely a difference-splitter among emo and pop-rock tradition—but he’s just as driven as the rest of what Beauty School offer. It’s what’s key in cultivating Happiness’ homespun charm, like a lot of more ‘reputable’ emo, as a matter of fact. Cabrera is liable to get a bit rougher and scratchier when needed, and it fits in naturally with where these songs go and the particular intensities that are called for. The polish is present but less obvious overall; Beauty School are never corralled into a rigid mould that holds them back from hitting exactly where they want to hit.

Especially for a debut, that’s a great place for Beauty School to be in, in that in trims some of the loose edges of a band typically finding their feet, to where they already feel like the finished article. Maybe they’re lacking a real standout hit, if a complaint absolutely needs to be made; for as consistently great as the album is, they perhaps don’t have a watermark moment that they already feel capable of, and that can sort of cap where the album ends up as a whole. That is to say, it’s faulting a band for not achieving excellence right out of the gate, a gripe which is completely as unfair as it seems written down.

Because at the end of the day, the standard that Happiness reaches isn’t the norm for bands just starting out, not by a long shot. Beauty School have vaulted past awkwardly testing their waters to a full, solid body of work, in which their directions have been clearly laid out and they’re already excelling at them. Among British alt-rock and emo, they’re a name with a lot of mileage to offer, and seeing how far this album will launch them—in a mainstream setting or otherwise—is such an tantalising thought for the rest of the year. If nothing else, they deserve to go the whole distance.

For fans of: Jimmy Eat World, Deaf Havana, Hot Mulligan

‘Happiness’ by Beauty School is released on 9th September on Slam Dunk Records.

Words by Luke Nuttall

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