Release Date: Feb 26, 2016
Record label: Vagrant
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock, Indie Rock, Indie Electronic, Dream Pop
Following the untimely death of Benjamin Curtis in 2013, it would have been entirely understandable if his cohort Alejandra Deheza had abandoned School Of Seven Bells. It is to her credit that she’s taken the work that the pair created before Curtis’ passing and, with the help of producer Justin Meldal-Johnsen, shaped what will presumably be the last album from the band. SVIIB works on a number of levels.
Head here to submit your own review of this album. In February 2013, Benjamin Curtis was diagnosed with T-cell lymphoblastic lymphoma, a very rare form of leukemia. Curtis was a staple part of School of Seven Bells since its inception, honing their sound from the shoegaze beginnings of 2008's Alpinism to the more synth-focused 2012 EP Put Your Sad Down.
“Ablaze,” from School of Seven Bells’ fourth and likely final LP, is composed of the same elements SVIIB have threaded together for years: heroic riffs, a colossus of a percussion track and Alejandra Deheza’s weightless sighs. The emotional clarity, however, is new; the song is an ode to redemptive love, delivered with full earnestness and complete surrender. “You saw the stars in me,” Deheza sings, and her often-glassy voice and SVIIB’s usually-huge mixes turn into something more plaintive, almost a cappella: “You told me how you saw the stars/You told me that till I believed.” It’s among the most life-affirming five minutes of pop music in recent memory.
Since the release of Secret Machines’ Now Here is Nowhere, Benjamin Curtis has written the soundtrack to little pockets of my life: indefinable outbursts of humanity which at first appeared mundane, but which I now treasure. In 2010, I moved hundreds of miles away from my family and friends. When I had unpacked, I wandered into town in search of an independent record shop.
When Alejandra Deheza and Benjamin Curtis started work on School of Seven Bells’ fourth album in the summer of 2012, they definitely had no thought that it would be the last record that they would write together. After Curtis developed T-cell lymphoblastic lymphoma and died in late 2013 aged only 35, that was sadly what it became. Deheza took some time away from the material and eventually left New York for Los Angeles, resolving to complete the record they’d started alone.
School of Seven Bells emerged in 2008 with a sound built on steely dreamscapes that felt familiar but fresh, coolly resigned but inviting. Seven years later and their story is scored by tragedy: after Alejandra Deheza’s twin, Claudia, left the group, founding member Benjamin Curtis was diagnosed with lymphoma in 2012 and died the following year. SVIIB is the result of his final recordings with Alejandra, a requiem of widescreen synthpop.
SVIIB is an atypical posthumous release. Although the fourth and presumably final School of Seven Bells album was released in 2016, over two years after the death of the duo's Benjamin Curtis, almost all of it was conceived in 2012, before Curtis learned that he had cancer. Only "Confusion," a placid lament, was written after the diagnosis, recorded during a brief hospital respite from treatment.
The orb in the cover of SVIIB can contain many things, but, of all, it’s highly likely to encase a perfectly piercing bright light. This is the light that would guide the friendship of founding members Alejandra Deheza and Benjamin Curtis. Within its mythical properties is an undefined part of human nature that pushes bonds along the dark. The news of Curtis being diagnosed with a rare form of T-Cell Lymphoblastic Lymphona brought upon sadness, but there was still the intention to complete the project that would be SVIIB.
Over the past three years, the story of School of Seven Bells has been well-documented, but it’s only now that the band’s Alejandra Deheza will be able to offer up their final chapter. ‘SVIIB’ comes accompanied with a bittersweet story: written in the summer of 2012, the album bears some of the final work of Benjamin Curtis, who passed away after battling T-cell lymphoblastic lymphona throughout 2013. The remarkable part, though, lies in the fact that two years on, the pair’s work is able to shine.
This is a very good pop record. Opening track "Ablaze" sets the tone with euphoric synths and 'ah's, getting you moving right from the start. Nitpicking, but this extended intro (the vocals don't come in until 0:51) leaves one hoping for a single edit that will get us to the dreamy sway of the verse that much quicker. Album precursor "Open Your Eyes" is another highlight of floating loveliness.
It's nearly four years since School Of Seven Bells' fourth album was recorded, just after 2012's 'Ghostory'. That album showed the growing musical maturity of Alejandra Deheza and Ben Curtis; the dense, electro-shoegaze of their early work had become a big, radio-friendly sound with jangling guitars, muscular beats and intricate synth melodies.But in 2013, after a short battle with cancer, Curtis died. Dehaja calls 'SVIIB' a love story, and it's hard not to get emotional.
It is impossible to talk about SVIIB, the most recent and likely final album from School of Seven Bells, without confronting a presence-absence dichotomy. The album exists as a document of the last collaboration between Alejandra Deheza and Benjamin Curtis before Curtis’ untimely death from lymphoma in 2013. Curtis is both everywhere and nowhere on SVIIB, and rarely has a collection of polished synthesizer music felt so personal.
The fourth and final album from these electro-gaze wanderers arrives with a heavy heart. Originally a trio comprising Benjamin Curtis (guitar) and twin sisters Alejandra and Claudia Deheza (guitar, keys), they became a duo in 2012 when Claudia departed for personal reasons. Then, in December 2013, Curtis – who previously dated Alejandra for five years – died within a year of being diagnosed with lymphoma.
The story of dream-pop heroes School of Seven Bells is undoubtedly compelling. Lead vocalist Alejandra Deheza met longtime partner and friend Ben Curtis in 2007 when they were working on other projects — Deheza in On!Air!Library! and Curtis in the Secret Machines. After touring in their separate outfits with Interpol, they teamed up with Deheza’s twin sister, Claudia, to form School of Seven Bells and release 2007’s sweeping Alpinisms and its follow-up, 2010’s Disconnect From Desire.
Many things in life are deeply unfair, but sometimes they’re simply unimaginable. When School of Seven Bells’ founding member Benjamin Curtis died in 2013, many considered that this album may not ever see the light of day. So it is that SVIIB has become their legacy, their swansong. This isn’t an album, however, which feels like a goodbye present, but is instead a beautiful record of a band at their creative peak.
On School of Seven Bells’ new album, Alejandra Deheza brings the dead back to life. After the duo’s other half, Benjamin Curtis, passed in 2013, Deheza was left with the bones of an album they worked on to the end. A testament to their closeness, the pair’s “SVIIB” serves as a proper memorial and goodbye. As the duo originally planned, Dehaza completed the album with Justin Meldal-Johnsen, who has collaborated with Beck, Nine Inch Nails, and M83.
“This is our time, and our time is indestructible,” Alejandra Deheza sings, with blissful conviction, at the end of the wholeheartedly gleaming march that concludes the final album by School of Seven Bells, “SVIIB.” There’s a sad back story behind it. School of Seven Bells was formed in 2007 and distilled itself down to a studio songwriting duo: Ms. Deheza and Benjamin Curtis, the group’s producer, who together built songs from elaborately layered electronics and guitars and Ms.