School of Seven Bells

SVIIB

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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. Over a somnolent, almost Angelo Badalamenti-like synthesizer wash and a muted keyboard melody, Alejandra Deheza is mystified and numbed by the present, unsure of the future: "We spent so long facing the days together that I forgot how to be different from us." At some point during deep mourning that involved a relocation from New York to Los Angeles, a restorative move inspired by a desert trip to shoot a video for the duo's non-album cover of Joey Ramone's "I Got Knocked Down (But I'll Get Up)," Deheza evidently remembered and regained her creative strength. She opened Curtis' laptop, and with help from his brother Brandon, organized the raw materials of SVIIB. Shaped and completed in the studio with Justin Meldal-Johnsen, a multi-instrumentalist and producer known most for his work with Beck and M83, SVIIB smoothly succeeds Ghostory and the Put Your Sad Down EP. Those 2012 releases involved an increase in the use of drum machines and synthesizers, and here, the duo's sound is more electronic-oriented, neater, and more muscular than ever. None of the nine fully formed songs here, however, completely forsakes its dream pop origin. The best synthesis occurs on "Signals"; the verses have all the booming low end and lustful assertion of classic freestyle, while the chorus slams into a combination of storming guitars and twinkling melodies as dazzling as any moment on Alpinisms or Disconnect from Desire. What clearly sets this apart from previous School of Seven Bells releases is the absence of characters and spirits. It's all about Deheza and Curtis, a decade-long partnership, split in romantic and platonic halves -- and creative throughout -- that is radiantly illustrated with expressions of bliss, frustration, consolation, reassurance, and, ultimately, grief. It ends School of Seven Bells in moving form and suggests a new and vital start for Deheza.

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