WPGM Recommends: School Of Seven Bells – SVIIB (Album Review)

school of seven bells album

The final three chapters of the Gaspar Noe`s groundbreaking film Irreversible show a couple played by Monica Belucci and Vincent Cassel in a state of absolute happiness. Appreciating their lucky connection, an understanding that only soul mates possess and the peaceful silent moments within love. However, as the French art film is told in reverse chronology, the audience is involuntarily aware of the unfair fate that lies in their future. It`s tragic eerie knowledge to possess.

This is what it feels like to listen to School of Seven Bells fourth and final album SVIIB. Without trying to discount the contribution of Claudia Deheza, the New York dreamy synth rock project will be remembered for the multi-dimensional symbiosis between Claudia`s sister Alejandra Deheza (vocals, lyricist) and producer Benjamin Curtis. They held a strong union that was romantic, spiritual and at times unfathomable (due to their belief that they met in a previous life), beyond just their musical responsibilities.

The lyrics to SVIIB were written in 2012, not long after the release of their third record Ghostory. It was a time when Alejandra and Benjamin had overcame all of their personal obstacles (including a break-up) to reach an undefinable type of companionship. In Ghostory, Alejandra was writing from the perspective of a fictional girl called Lafaye, but on SVIIB, she switched to an autobiographical prose for the first time, feeling the need to document the timeline of their co-existence.

Mostly positive in its complimentary, advisory and question-relating observations. Yet tragedy struck in December 2013 when Benjamin died of Leumonia before the completion of the album. Now, finally released in 2016 – delayed due to Alejandra`s understandable grieving – it has a whole different impression upon investigation. It now operates as a thank you present to Benjamin. It`s emotionally joyous in its sound, and references particular shared moments including how Benjamin helped Alejandra`s crippling insomnia by creating ambient mix-tapes: “You were the drug to bring me out from my crushing sleep” (“Ablaze“).

But like David Bowie`s darkly-timed Blackstar, it`s hard not to read between the lines. Lines that in reality are Alejandra consoling Benjamin after their breakup, can easily be interpreted as a self-healing process. Teaser single “Open Your Eyes” opens with the words “moving on“, and goes on to advise “it`s time to wake up” and exclaim “your heart is broken and you`ve been weeping“.

In the accidental context, it sounds like an anthem of closure and a lesson on life`s impermanence. Furthermore, “A Thousand Times More” talks about drying tears, swapping pain and rebirth. “This hurt will pass” and “I`ll be the one to bring you back“, are guaranteed to be misunderstood.

All of this is actually more interesting than the music itself, which is pretty straight forward, compared to the preceded electronically-ambitious School of Seven Bells records that mixed shoegaze-influenced indie rock with dream pop. It`s simplified like the transition between Purity Ring`s first two albums. Yet it could still be described as a human presence promoting and daydreaming of the greater good beneath robotics, just a tad less predictable this time.

Alejandro`s tiptoeing style of singing is the continuity throughout their career but the New Order influence grows stronger (it began on sophomore Disconnect From Desire) and so does the synthpop ambient tendencies of M83`s compositions, with the new producer Justin Medal-Johnsen accountable for this, as he produced the French act`s 2011 album Hurry Up We`re Dreaming.

The minimal emptiness of “Confusion” could be lazily compared to M83`s “Wait” but actually it`s praiseworthy in its own right; the efficient use of space is incredible. Sustained Angelo Badalamenti keyboard hovers in the background as a sharp spinning disk propels around the stereo. The other highlight being “Signals” – Persian-flavoured new wave and the kind of hip-hop beat that Chairlift have adopted on 2016`s Moth, with the fuzzy rock guitar of early School of Seven Bells records lurking beneath.

This might be the end of Alejandra Deheza`s band – marking the experience with a title of era-defining roman numerals – but as for her kinship with Benjamin Curtis, she answers defiantly on the album`s last chapter: “This is our time and it`s indestructible“. School Of Seven Bells‘ new album SVIIB is out now,purchase it on iTunes here.

Words by Matt Hobbs

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