The term “finishing school” can have two meanings. In the past, it usually referred to the place where young women went to learn social graces and upper-class manners, deportment, and etiquette. More colloquially, finishing school also means one has reached the end of one’s formal learning. The Nashville-based band Brontë Fall, headed by Teri Bracken, call their new EP Finishing School referring to both definitions.
Bracken has written a half a dozen songs that explicitly refer to the “good life” of the American housewife and personifies the role she has taken, coyly referred to here as “Freeway High”, as in both the pleasures of the open road and the secondary school of hard knocks and life experiences. Brontë Fall proudly proclaims Bracken’s liberty with a sense of humor and a tinge of sadness as befits an act named in part after the 19th-century English sisters of literature (that Bracken presumably learned about while attending school).
Bracken’s lyrics reveal her love of literature. Consider the specifics presented in “White Dress” where she compares her outfit of leather jacket and jeans to those who chose a conventional marriage. “Some girls want that white dress / Three kids and a picket fence / Minivan in the driveway / Boys from the highway in a suit / They’re found in their yoga pants / With their husbands in finance / Starbucks in the AM / close out the day with a good Cabernet.” The details she provides convey both the seductive pleasure of what other women enjoy—the way in which she rhymes the “A” in “AM” with “day” and the nay-sound in “Cabernet”—as well as its limitations. Their lives are too smooth. She likes things rougher and invokes the smell of cigarette smoke and booze in the back of a crowded van on the way to a gig as more to her taste. Bracken’s choice of a musician’s itinerant lifestyle is her version of the white dress dream.
On “Freeway High”, Bracken laments ending up alone with bills and a dead-end career. However, she accepts living in the present as more important than worrying about the future and celebrates what is. This theme of independence unifies the different songs on the EP.
Bracken has a great sense of phrasing, as evidenced above, whether she’s rhyming “yoga pants” with “finance” or dropping asides (“in a suit”) to show the implications of what’s suggested (i.e., material values). She feels free enough to speak her mind and can be acerbic without being mean-spirited. Even on the songs about the war between the sexes such as “Warrior” and “Bad Ideas”, she acknowledges her own culpability. She sings in a husky voice to show her strength even as she aches.
The instrumentation behind Bracken’s voice makes her music hard to categorize. She is classically trained (Berklee College of Music) but often utilizes pop and alternative rock tropes with different atmospherics so that piano and violin on “Give You a Halo” and the martial drums and guitar licks of “Six Years” all seem of the same piece united by her presence. It’s her voice that catches one’s attention and makes one want to sing along for the pure joy of it.
The “Fall” of Brontë Fall alludes to Emily Brontë’s glorious poem “Fall Leaves Fall” about delighting in the world as it is, even when the seasonal changes may seem dreary. That’s analogous to what happens here. Bracken understands while she may be finished with school, maturity doesn’t mean being drab. Instead, she can live her life according to her plan. That autonomy is its own reward.