by Kelli Redding
As the year draws to a close, there are a number of albums that have stood out as ones I will bring with me as my soundtrack accompanying the beginning of 2019. One of those, Bright to Death, the fifth studio album from LA-based rockers Film School, is an album that reflects, much like its title, all of the contrasts, and the moments of hope and despair, that illuminate our day-to-day lives with the passing of time. Formed in 1998 in San Francisco, Film School has gone through a number of lineup changes and releases on various labels over the past twenty years. They’ve even provided music for a series of short films and advertising campaigns but chose to return to their signature spacious sound in 2016, subsequently releasing a 4-song EP entitled June before beginning work on their latest, Bright to Death.
Bright to Death is an expansive landscape of songs ranging from infectious indie-rock anthems, to glitchy pop melodies, to crunchy, droning waves of noise that flow to fill the rest of all the spaces in between. The album opener, “Crushin,” allows us to dive headfirst into the sound, featuring lush vocals and pristine-slick guitar production as refreshing as drinking a glass of ice water after a long day of wandering. The following track, “Don’t Send My Love,” asserts that Film School has proved themselves as an established band over the years; these are musicians whose inspiration undoubtedly derives from hours spent pouring over their own cherished record collections and knowing what they want to sound like themselves. “I have a favorite song in these records,” Greg Bertens sings, “but did you think that song was just okay?”
“Two in Sun” is another highlight of the album, and perhaps the most shoegaze-y track. A steady beat plods forwards overtop rippling guitar textures that fade in and out. High-up guitar notes sparkle like tiny constellations blinking above the rest of the song’s atmosphere below. This is simply a gorgeous track. “If There’s One Thing I Hate” offers an ambient segway into the next song, “Celebration,” a dance-y tune reminiscent of post-90s Britpop bands. “Go Low” has a definite groove to it and is another highlight of the album. The title-track, “Bright to Death,” is a spiraling and enchanting kaleidoscope of synth-driven bliss. The closing track, “Waking Up,” leaves us departing on a high note, implying the album was a journey within a dream that has just ended.
Overall, this album offers a little bit of everything for any fans of shoegaze, or indie rock in general. There are moments of heavy, weighted emotion, and there are moments of bright, upbeat energy. No two songs sound the same. This is a solid release from a band that has been around long enough to know what works for them, how to write great music, and how to release a great record.
I recommend adding Bright to Death to your collection of albums released in 2018, if you haven’t already. As we find ourselves bracing for the coolness of the winter months ahead, this album offers something poignantly radiant against the often-bleak atmosphere this time of year, something that looks forward to the horizon and is exhilarated by what’s ahead.