20 July 2010

School of Seven Bells: "Disconnect from Desire"

Could I ever pass up good dream pop / shoegaze? No. Welcome to the world of School of Seven Bells [SVIIB] and their sophomore album, “Disconnect from Desire” (12 July 2010 in the UK, 13 July 2010 in the USA). This trio (Benjamin Curtis and identical twins Alejandra and Claudia Deheza) prioritizes composing music by first writing lyrics and creating music that mirrors, augments, and accompany the lyrical content. With a broad range of musical means, from guitars to savvy electronics, they are able to put out the sound of a traditional band, but consistently never rest on their laurels and instead offer up twists and twists and even more twists in the tradition of dream pop and shoegaze. And let me say right up front, what I like most about SVIIB is the fact are not content with rehashing some mythical cannon of dream pop or shoegaze, but rather pushing the envelop a bit further with flirting with synthrock and synthpop.

Not reproducing the sound of some nostalgic canon of shoegaze albums or giving into reproducing shoegaze in any traditional sense (like the revival whores are doing), SVIIB veers outwardly closer to Curve and My Bloody Valentine of “Blown a Wish” and “Soon,” while subtly sharing some aesthetics with Chapterhouse, Ride, or Slowdive. Let me explain… Outwardly, the beats definitely veer closer to something that could be danced to at times – remixes might be really nice – while they arrange and layer their music in the same traditional sense as the shoegaze classics. In terms of the electronic sounds used, there is a bit of synthpop there, and occasionally synthrock veers its head – that “rockish” sound that is purposely synthetic. So with a broader range of references than the “new-nu-gaze,” SVIIB is able to offer up a sound that is distinct from their brethrens, and in many ways much more vital, urgent, and relevant than what others are doing.

The hauntingly sweet vocal arrangements are ethereally beautiful, but continuously grounded by the (often time heavily affected) guitar arrangements. Working in tandem, the guitar and vocal arrangements help to create a warm, welcoming feeling to the songs, which is an obstacle for many electronic bands. The reality is that nothing screams synthetic like drum machines, nothing screams feigned like soulless sequencers… but as other solid electronic acts, they are savvy enough to play between the digital and analogue to create a balance that is often rare, and extremely rare in electronic shoegaze. Not that cold music is always bad (I love my darkwave), that is not what you get with “Disconnect from Desire”: this is a lusciously visceral album, which draws you in track-by-track.

Sonically, opening with an air of frivolity, lyrically the opening track, “Windstorm,” weighs in heavy from moment one: “Wind mills cut through the voids of hiding the imagine, the truth the eyes neglect to see what the heart pursues, then my heart finds a dream in me. It sees you in the untouchable; that’s not to say that I don’t feel the limitations and the dropped from the expectation, it’s not lying but the heart of creation is the only thing proven true to me.” With a bit of the post-punk in those lyrics (reminds me greatly of how “Charlotte Sometimes” flows), the band is given into a bit of stream-of-consciousness, engaging emotionally weighty topics in a serious and poetic way, and not generating prepackaged, clichéd anxiety or despair.

Songs like “Dust Devil” and “Camarilla” reflect that they band is willing and capable of thinking / composing out of the shoegaze box, really infusing synthrock and synthpop (respectively) traditions into the music. But what holds true through every track is that sonically/musically nothing is overdone. Every sound, every effect, is towards an end. And when you finally find yourself swirling into the final track, “The Wait,” SVIIB throws you their biggest twist yet: the most sedate and broodiest song on the album. Moving way closer to traditional dream pop than shoegaze, this is the most minimalist track on the album. Carried by the guitar for the most part, the electronic sounds are there for ambience, the wispy vocal arrangements sooth you, though the words and voices are full of despondency. And though a beat eventually builds up in this epic, the song ends musically much the same way it started, abruptly all but the guitar and keys dropping out.

Sophomore slump? Hell no! This album impressed me even more than their debut. School of Seven Bells’ “Disconnect from Desire” is a solid album, which will haunt your thoughts from the very first listen. So enough faffing…. check out this band and album.

Track Listing:
1. Windstorm
2. Heart Is Strange
3. Dust Devil
4. I L U
5. Babelonia
6. Joviann
7. Camarilla
8. Dial
9. Bye Bye Bye
10. The Wait

Keep up with School of Seven Bells at their homepage, MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, and their Vagrant Records page.

Here are two video clips; the first is a video from their debut album (“Alpinisms”) called “Half Asleep” from vagrantrecords YouTube Channel. The second a live performance of “Bye Bye Bye” (at Mercury Lounge, NYC, 9 June 2010) from the supmag YouTube Channel.

Here are some tour dates; refer to their MySpace or Vagrant Records page for more information

7/30: Splendour in the Grass Festival, Woodford, Australia

9/9: Brooklyn, NY USA
9/11: Cambridge, MA USA
9/12: Burlington, VT USA
9/13: Montreal, QC Canada
9/15: Toronto, ON Canada
9/15 and 9/16: Ann Arbor, MI USA
9/17: Chicago, IL USA
9/18: Madison, WI USA
9/19: Minneapolis, MN USA
9/20: Iowa City, IA USA
9/21: Omaha, NE USA
9/23: Kansas City, MO USA
9/24: Denver, CO USA
9/25: Salt Lake City, UT USA
9/26: Seattle, WA USA
9/28: Vancouver, BC Canada
9/29: Portland, OR USA
9/30: San Francisco, CA USA

10/1: Los Angeles, CA USA
10/2: Costa Mesa, CA USA
10/3: San Diego, CA USA
10/5: Tucson, AZ USA
10/6: Albuquerque, NM USA
10/8: Denton, TX USA
10/9: Austin, TX USA
10/10: Houston, TX USA
10/11: Baton Rouge, LA USA
10/12: Tallahassee, FL USA
10/14: Tampa, FL USA
10/15: Orlando, FL USA
10/16: Miami, FL USA
10/18: Atlanta, GA USA
10/19: Chapel Hill, NC USA
10/20: Baltimore, MD USA
10/21: Washington, DC USA
10/22: Philadelphia, PA USA
10/23: New York, NY USA

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