Adelaide’s The Finishing School is an interesting prospect, and not one to be confused with (quite brilliant) weekly Melbourne indie-dance night of the same name. The band comprise of brother and sister team Emily and Thom Combe, Lyndon Gray and Andrew Gaborit and are best known for being ‘the band that has Peter Combe’s kids in it’, which is a distracting irrelevancy given that any similarity begins with the surname and ends with the prominent use of acoustic guitars.
This, the début album, is a lushly recorded effort highlights of which include smart arrangements, delicate acoustic finger-picking, a rhythm section more interested in atmosphere than drive and, most notably, a deft use of fraternal harmonies. What it doesn’t have however are memorable hooks or a clear concept of what it wants to get across.
Like the cover art, this band is very good at being made up and looking/sounding the part. However, within the aesthetics lies an emptiness; a lot of nods and gestures but little to distinguish the band from the thick woods of plaintive and mellow Australian acoustic songsmiths, many of whom create stronger images with a lot fewer words and chords. This isn’t to say that there aren’t moments of interest – Starting A Conga Line features some wonderfully intricate and un-showy guitar work from Thom Combe, and there is a genuine grace and warmth to his sister’s floating vocals over the surprising electronic backing of Filthy Attraction.
Given that the album rarely moves above a moderate pace and they are not aiming for the hip, the atmospheres they seek to evoke could be better served with simplicity. There is obvious talent here and future efforts could be more interesting. What does work though is the production of Matt Hills and the rich instrumental backing the band construct, which combine to reinforce the urge for the lyrics to be tightened.