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Casual listeners would never second guess the personal tragedy that renders this, School of Seven Bells’ fourth record, the last album that vocalist Alejandra Deheza and Benjamin Curtis will record as a duo. Following Curtis’ death some two years ago of T-cell lymphoblastic lymphoma, SVIIB is the finally completed work of Deheza and Curtis that was begun before, and worked on during, Curtis’ illness.
See, SVIIB doesn’t sound mournful or sad and is no rumination on death or the unjust brevity of life (Curtis was only 35 when he died). If anything it is the most straightforwardly out-and-out dance record of their eight-year career. But it does feel celebratory – about music and friendship – which is surely significant.
Musically, SVIIB is no massively radical departure from the band’s previous output of hazy dream-pop and electronica with layered-up harmonies and vocals. An unexpected but serendipitous reference point here is Madonna’s turn-of-career, William Orbit-produced Ray of Light album.
‘Music Takes Me’ could have come from this album with a song title that is quintessential and classic Madonna and sees School of Seven Bells sounding equally as unrestrained and free as Madonna at her best. This and the other uptempo tracks (and they make up the majority of the 9 tracks here) have more of a pop sensibility than before then – and School of Seven Bells display a natural instinct for it.
‘Signals’ is a blizzard of drum machines, chopped up – vocal hooks with staccato and tense verses that lead into a guitar-frazzling, stadium-sized chorus. Without any doubt, it’s one of the band’s very best and most alive moments.
‘A Thousand Times More’ connects more to School of Seven Bells’ earlier material but with an added intensity and catchier edges propelling into a brighter and more accessible place. Only on the doomy and bleeping ‘Elias’ and the gorgeous, lullaby-like ‘Confusion’ does the pace drop slightly.
‘On My Head’ is a brilliant, cocky song-spoken electro pop song. Depicting a toing and froing very late night argument it includes the line, ‘There was a you before me, there was a me before you,’ but ends with the reassurance of ‘with me you’re love safe’.
This seems to sum up both the past and the future of Curtis and Deheza’ relationship and it would nice to think of their present – a time where both existed together as a perfected artistic whole – being captured forever on SVIIB.
Although School of Seven Bells no longer exists in this form, the pair’s ability to create music that is beautiful and gauzy but equally solid and meaningful has never been more evident than here.