Tag Archive: School of Seven Bells


This article first appeared at No Ripcord on February 29, 2016.

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The death of a partner isn’t just devastating in its immediacy, but in the impact it has on those left behind for the rest of their lives. In Alejandra Deheza’s case, she lost her self-described soulmate and School of Seven Bells co-founder Benjamin Curtis to lymphoma in 2013 at the far too young age of 35. Before his diagnosis, the band was at the height of their powers, releasing the excellent Ghostory in 2012 and working on what would turn into SVIIB immediately afterwards. After Curtis’ death, Deheza worked to finish the record, dedicating the band’s final statement to him. And what a statement it is, reflecting all aspects of the type of relationship only a few people have.

Ablaze and Open Your Eyes are songs about two people supporting each other through an incredible challenge, with a refusal to be dragged down by the weight they must carry. The former starts where Ghostory left off, with a pulsing synth rhythm and Deheza’s ethereal voice swirling together in an uplifting, danceable trance. On Open Your Eyes, gentle keys float alongside a handclap rhythm and Deheza’s rapid-fire lyrics. “I know your heart is broken/And you’ve been weeping/But I’ve been waiting here/Patiently for too long,” Deheza says, expressing both her and Curtis’ frustration at the hand they’ve been dealt, with his treatment often keeping him out of the studio.

On A Thousand Times More, Deheza expresses the limits of their relationship though, knowing that it may not be enough to save Curtis. “I wish there was a way/To reassure your heart/Now I can promise anything/Except to say this hurt will pass,” she sings, with a simple, low-key riff by Curtis pushing up against snappy percussion and skyward synths.

While every song here makes note of the relationship at the center of School of Seven Bells, this is not a downbeat album. Instead, it’s a record that showcases everything the band is about. On My Heart is weirder and funkier than nearly any other track, with an unbalanced synth riff line that instantly captures your attention. Signals sounds like a futuristic take on 90s R&B, until the chorus kicks in with huge guitars and a sparkling synth line.

The album concludes with two songs that perfectly reflect the different sides of a friendship that ends too soon. Confusion is the only song that was fully written after Curtis’ diagnosis. With slow, mournful synths, Deheza sings about clouds coming in, her voice fragile and tired. The song’s title and tone fits beautifully, expressing the constant questioning that goes on when someone has such a destructive illness.

SVIIB ends though on a note of hope and happy memories. Written before Curtis’ diagnosis, This Is Our Time contains one of the strongest melodies the band has come up with, an empowering cascade of spacey keys. It’s a song of togetherness, against any and all obstacles or enemies. “Our time is indestructible,” Deheza defiantly sings, her joy and confidence in her relationship with Curtis overwhelming all else. It’s an incredible end to a memorable record that showcases a relationship through the good times and bad. No matter what happens, Curtis and Deheza always have each other, and nothing, not even death, can stand in the way of that.

8/10
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This article was written with Dana Grossman and first appeared at Consequence of Sound on September 10th, 2010.

(Photo by Dana Grossman)

The Brooklyn Bowl, more well-known for its DJ sets and…well…bowling, isn’t the ideal venue for a rock concert. Despite the bum location, School of Seven Bells still played to a sold-out crowd in Williamsburg, ready to play their special brand of electronic dream pop. One might expect the sound of bowling balls crashing against pins to interrupt the music, but there was certainly enough noise coming from the stage to drown even that out. Unfortunately, not all of this noise was pleasant to the ears.

Before the crowd got a chance to lose themselves in School of Seven Bells’ set, they were treated to two very different opening acts. Both Shigeto and Active Child may seem like odd choices for the show, but they represented two sides of the Seven Bells coin. Combine Shigeto’s electronic noise art with Active Child’s gospel-tinged ambience and you essentially have written the formula for the headlining act.

Shigeto’s Zachary Saginaw, touring member/drummer for Seven Bells, brought on a friend to join him as guitarist and fellow synthesizer player. The musically mental compilation was a mix of drums, guitar, and electronica, giving the venue an ambient and almost rave-like sound. While their abstract and improvised-sounding music was attention-grabbing at first, the length of their act (about 45 minutes) combined with their style led to some redundancy. With no clear songs, it faded into little more than background noise after half an hour or so. While Saginaw’s impressive drum solo at some point brought some more life to the ambience, he didn’t even give time for the audience to applaud before heading right back to the synthesizer. The lesson here? It’s tough to listen to rave music if there are no opportunities to dance.

If Shigeto faded into the background, then Active Child slinked its way up to the front with its delicately haunted arrangements. Starting off on a harp, the project’s founding member, Pat Grossi, let out a trembling falsetto that glided over the crowd as smoothly as his hands glided over the strings. Beautiful, earthy arrangements made their way through the speakers, picking up bits of electronic ambiance along the way. The first half of the set should have been retitled Music for Lord of the Rings, creating a soundtrack for grassy hills and long journeys from Rivendell. The second half was a combination of what a dance party at Minas Tirith would sound like, and good old-fashioned guitar rock. Even though the sound varied, the band’s personality and Grossi’s impressive vocals remained intact.

After a pretty short setup time, School of Seven Bells arrived from the rafters for an hour-long set. While they first appeared a little nervous, they quickly relaxed by the second or third song. The band didn’t talk to the crowd much, instead letting the floating, dual vocals of sisters Alejandra and Claudia Deheza keep everyone’s attention. The group was all business, quickly moving from one song to the next, but they looked like they were having a good time as well. In terms of the actual music, Seven Bells sounded much rougher than on their well-polished albums. This definitely helped to give the group a more dynamic sound, letting them improvise and adjust as needed. From an aggressive “Half-Asleep” to the whistle melody of “Windstorm”, the set covered ground from both of the band’s records in tighter and sometimes unexpected ways. The person everyone’s eyes were on, though, was guitarist Benjamin Curtis, who proved to be a monster on the six-string. Whether he spent the song pushing the several dozen pedals at his feet or swinging his instrument around like a madman, it was all done with both precision and a sense of wild abandon at once.

While School of Seven Bells had really refined musicianship and instrumentation, they’re the type of band that needs a really good sound system to work. Sadly, the one they had at Brooklyn Bowl didn’t cut it at all, severely hurting their performance. First off, the vocals were way too buried in the mix, making it impossible to distinguish anything the sisters were singing or saying.  Secondly, the guitar effects became way too shrill, sounding more like feedback and deafening white noise at times. As a result, headaches were plentiful by the end of the evening. With better equipment or a better venue, the music would have soared, which makes the crippling technical problems that much more painful.

School of Seven Bells looks like a band that’s still forming their live identity, but are definitely on the right path.  With Curtis’ intense, effects-laden guitar and the harmonies of the Deheza sisters, the band looks to only grow in popularity. Hopefully, next time around, they’ll have the equipment to match their musical ambitions.

This article first appeared at Consequence of Sound on July 5th, 2010.

Sometimes, you just want to get away from it all. When life’s stressing you out, there’s nothing you want more than to go on vacation and leave the world behind. If you can’t take a week off for a trip to Bermuda though, you can always just shut out the world with music. Close your eyes, lie back, and…disconnect. So far, out of all the albums this year to disappear into, School of Seven BellsDisconnect from Desire should be near the top of the list.

The second album by the New York trio is a beautiful mashup of haunting atmospherics, minimalistic guitar, thunderous bass, and gorgeous harmonies between twin sisters Alejandra and Claudia Deheza. But despite how thick and layered the record is at times, there’s always a strong melody or groove to be found.

The opener, “Windstorm”, kicks things off strongly with a high-pitched vocal noise creating its own rhythm before the traditional instruments move the song to a more structured form. However, this vocal pattern is the focal point of the whole number, adding itself to the background about halfway through. Even though it’s fairly shrill, it’s still incredibly catchy. Like on nearly every track, the twins’ singing is pushed to the front and center. Swirling whistling noises that sound like they’re being played from the bottom of a canyon complete the process of this weird, yet awesome opener. We’re only on the first track, folks! It gets better from here.

“Heart Is Strange” and “Dust Devil” shows off the group’s range of effects and style by switching gears a little. The recognizable dream pop is still found everywhere but it’s relegated to the background for these next two tracks. The former is founded on a Daft Punk groove, with pulsing bass and upbeat drumming. The guitar work is also more rhythmic than on other tracks, adding itself to the beat rather than working off it. It’s the perfect song for driving on a highway at night. On the other hand, the latter is underwater music. The percussion heavy intro sounds like a build-up of rain if every drop was on a xylophone. Add some handclaps plus a racing bass line and you’ve got a perfectly good track for your next rave.

Almost all of the album’s other songs fall more into the shoegaze pop of the opener rather than the funk they unleash in “Dust Devil.” This is a real shame since those two numbers were done so well and felt like the direction the band was moving in since they came right after each other. Instead, they backpedaled and stuck to a style closer to “Windstorm.” Not that it’s a bad thing. There are many great moments in the record past the opening trilogy. “Babelonia” creates an expansive foggy atmosphere that the sister’s strong vocals break through. “Joviann” has a rumbling earthquake bass that shakes in the background but is always noticeable. But these songs feel like a step in the wrong direction and can’t hold up when compared to their earlier grooves.

It takes until the last two tracks for the trio to set themselves right again. First up is the daring “Bye Bye Bye”. Now, I don’t say it’s daring because of anything musically. It’s because any time that song name appears, it brings up images of boy bands and synchronized hand waves from the early 2000s. Luckily, School of Seven Bells try their best to wipe away the memory of that hit with eerie atmospherics that support a kickass, stuttering groove. The entire number sounds like something the aliens from Close Encounters of the Third Kind would come up with if they landed in present-day Brooklyn.

The final song, “The Wait”, is simply the best way the band could have ended Disconnect From Desire. There’s not much more to say about it, mainly because not much happens. Unlike the rest of the album, however, this track is minimalistic to its core. For most of its six-minute run, all that’s heard is a pleasant drone and the lovely harmonies of the two Dehezas. Some light drum taps and brittle guitar notes come in towards the end, creating a beautifully slow send-off into dreamland. In a record with so much going on, ending on a bare bones track gives listeners a chance to relax and take in the whole experience.

From beginning to end, School of Seven Bells’ second album creates interesting and melodic atmospheres that provide support for some truly great songs. While it’s a shame that they didn’t experiment more with their rave elements, there isn’t much bad you can say about what’s here. It’s worth a listen, especially after a stressful day. So lie back and let Disconnect From Desire give you a vacation without ever having to purchase a plane ticket.

4/5