Release Date: Feb 28, 2012
Record label: Vagrant
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock
I like this record, which means it’s hard to review it. I especially like it first thing in the morning, as I’m getting dressed and its guitars are whooshing through me, putting a little bit of a pep in my step for the rest of the day. I like it on the treadmill because it pushes me along. On the tube, its hazy whirl swishes around and washes away the world around me.
Claudia Deheza's exit from School of Seven Bells was not a typical case of shrinking band membership. It claimed a rare attribute and a significant attraction: sibling harmonies, once shared with remaining twin Alejandra Deheza. That's not something that can be replaced or covered up in the studio. While the absence of the twins' harmonies are missed on Ghostory, School of Seven Bells' third album, the sound of the group -- now a duo of Deheza and Ben Curtis -- is as lushly layered as ever, with spectral textures and propulsive dance rhythms, both programmed and played, equally affecting.
After 10 years of New Wave, post-punk and synth-pop revivalism, one of the more striking features of the third School of Seven Bells album, Ghostory, is that it sounds exceedingly familiar. And I mean that in a good way. Like the SVIIB albums before it (2008’s Alpinisms and 2010’s Disconnect from Desire), Ghostory is self-assured, stunningly produced and loaded with hooks, like the blistering and gorgeous first track “The Night,” which sounds like a more pop-oriented and melodically focused Ladytron.
Review Summary: Exquisite.The concept surrounding Ghostory is flimsy at best – the running narrative of a girl named Lafaye and all the ghosts that one would expect to surround a girl with such a Victorian name. The loss of Claudia Deheza robs School of Seven Bells of one of their most distinctive characteristics, the angelic, unearthly harmonizing between Claudia and twin sister Alejandra. Yet Ghostory, the band’s third record and their first as a duo, is uncommonly strong and surefooted, a remarkable transformation of their gossamer-thin dream pop into something vigorous and visceral.
Neither the fact that they've lost a key member (Claudia Deheza left in 2010), nor that their third LP is a concept album about a haunted character called Lafaye, sounds auspicious, but happily SVllB still soun d fantastic. Pastel-coloured vocals from Alejandra Deheza (Claudia's twin) are layered over dance beats and huge, sweeping washes of ambient electronica, proving "propulsive dreampop" needn't be oxymoronic. Sometimes those driving beats can feel heavy-handed, as on the relentless-seeming six minutes of "Low Times", but they make amends with a triumphant final jam, "When You Sing".
Shrinking from a trio to a duo since their last album hasn't affected School of Seven Bells' core sound of dreamy electronica. Though the loss of singer Claudia Deheza strips their music of one enchanting element – the harmonies she produced with twin sister Alejandra – the remaining twosome (Alejandra and guitarist Benjamin Curtis) have actually become more ambitious. Ghostory's nine ethereal songs swirl around a central narrative: they tell the story of "a young girl named Lafaye and the ghosts that surround her life".
School of Seven BellsGhostory[Vagrant; 2012]By Andrew Halverson; February 28, 2012Purchase at: Insound (Vinyl) | Amazon (MP3 & CD) | iTunes | MOGTweetLosing a member can leave a band in disarray or void of the power they once held and it frequently puts the music in a wildly off-putting direction. The concept is also not something that typically leaves the project in a seemingly directional state. In plenty of other cases, however, a lineup change may challenge a band to revitalize their thirst for making music, try new things, and in general, move on.
For the past few years, a whole new generation of artists have been tinkering within the shoegaze genre, giving it a facelift and dubbing it “nu gaze.” Oddly enough, it’s hardly fallen on deaf ears. Last year, M83, one of the finest progenitors of the movement, opened the door for countless listeners with its latest opus, Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming, an album whose tracks have been surfacing just about everywhere by now. Now, some four months later, fellow former tour mates School of Seven Bells (often stylized as SVIIB) return to the fold, pushing the genre forward with its latest LP, Ghostory.
"Disconnect from desire" is the sort of message usually encoded within salt-of-the-earth folk or new age unicorn fantasies, so it was easy to view School of Seven Bells' second album with suspicion. After all, its immaculate textures and brisk, glossy electro-pop are the kind you hear in moderately high-end clothing stores or spinning classes-- places where people reconnect with their need for quick fixes. But SVIIB's career to date has been a process of streamlining and economization: since their 2008 debut, Alpinisms, they've continuously pared down song length, sonic clutter, as well as personnel, and now on Ghostory, Alejandra Deheza and Ben Curtis come across like they've achieved a Zen sort of perfection as a duo.
Somewhere between releasing its sophomore album, Disconnect From Desire, in 2010 and starting production on latest effort Ghostory, School of Seven Bells lost a Deheza. That is, it lost Claudia Deheza, twin sister to vocalist Alejandra and one-third of the band. But Alejandra and guitarist/producer Benjamin Curtis powered on to make an album that does not sound like it is at a loss for much of anything.
School of Seven Bells' latest release, Ghostory, is textured and sonically insistent. There are broad brushes of sound and breathy vocals to boot. Apparently, it's a loose concept album about a girl named Lafaye and the ghosts, both real and metaphorical, that occupy her life. But, as the supernatural have become television mainstays thanks to shows like Ghost Hunters, SVIIB's third LP seems a little too practiced.
So here is School of Seven Bells, minus one (Claudia Dehaza), with their third album, Ghostory, but things are very much business as usual: There’s the usual grace, density, and new ageyness; there’s the strangely multitracked vocals (it’s spooky how little this element has changed); and there’s pop-precision placidness to the delivery of earnest and impassioned sentiments like “the time has come to reappear into your life. ” Perhaps the formula they’ve found has elements of stagnancy on the surface, but time spent with any SVIIB LP reveals charms for those who like airy, emotive, bygone pop music. There’s an innocence to the melodies they favor that makes anyone who’s ever swooned to “Eyes Without a Face” or “Take My Breath Away” feel at home.
If [a]School Of Seven Bells[/a] were a story told by shivering scouts around campfires before their nightly woodland molestations, they’d be The Spectre Of The Shoe, the immaculate apparition that rose from the swirling mist of the shoegazing revival in 2006 wailing like the undead spirits of Slowdive and Cocteau Twins shagging in space. But before you call in Derek Acorah to exorcise pop, their story has reached an inauspicious climax. Just as they had their hands around the sleeping throat of popular culture, ready to leap down its neck and possess its puppet soul, School Of Seven Bells were blown clean apart by Going Enya.
On their first two releases, 2008’s Alpinisms and 2010’s Disconnect From Desire, School of Seven Bells demonstrated an aptitude for crafting irresistible pop nuggets, constructed around Benjamin Curtis’s electonic soundscapes and the ethereally lovely voices of Alejandra and Claudia Deheza. Since the release of Disconnect From Desire, Claudia has left the band, taking her vocals with her and leaving the others to carry on as a duo. Sad to say, it was those twinned vocals that elevated the band above the pack, and with 50 percent of the vocalists gone, the result is underwhelming.
A staggeringly beautiful third set from the NYC shoegaze duo. Tom Hocknell 2012 How many identical twins does one really need in their band? The departure of singer/keyboardist Claudia Deheza in late 2010 left School of Seven Bells featuring just the one sister in its line-up, Alejandra, alongside former Secret Machines man Benjamin Curtis. But Claudia’s absence hasn’t had a huge impact on this third album’s sound: SVIIB has always been about the music rather than the members making it.
School Of Seven Bells derive their name from a pickpocket training academy in the Andes mountains, South America’s more mysterious, slick-operating take on Oliver Twist. That seems very fitting indeed when we’re talking about ‘Ghostory’, their third offering.The band’s debut was a bit of a Fagan character, a loose cannon that had a penchant for pilfered world music. The follow up, ‘Disconnect From Desire’, was more like the Artful Dodger, far more polished, ducking and diving across rhythms and melodies and pocketing a smattering of stars from the critics.
School of Seven Bells inhabited an enjoyable niche of shoegaze-lite pop. Benjamin Curtis' ethereal compositions were the perfect foil to the quasi-spiritualist chants and pageantry of twin vocalists Alejandra and Claudia. Third album, Ghostory, follows an arc of shedding: breadth of sound, duration (as each album becomes shorter) and now a member - Claudia left for 'personal reasons' - an upbeat statement suggests all was amicable, a mid-tour disappearance suggests otherwise.