School of Seven Bells – ‘SVIIB’ Review

The dreamy New Yorkers’ last ever album is a moving eulogy for the late Benjamin Curtis

The fourth and final album from these electro-gaze wanderers arrives with a heavy heart. Originally a trio comprising Benjamin Curtis (guitar) and twin sisters Alejandra and Claudia Deheza (guitar, keys), they became a duo in 2012 when Claudia departed for personal reasons. Then, in December 2013, Curtis – who previously dated Alejandra for five years – died within a year of being diagnosed with lymphoma. ‘SVIIB’ collects the work the pair had started prior to his death.

Deheza has called the album “a love letter from start to finish” and while her grief is palpable, there’s no hint of any wallowing. As with their three previous albums, the aim is sonic ascension and Beck producer Justin Meldal-Johnsen revisits the mesmeric atmosphere of 2008’s ‘Alpinisms’ and 2010’s ‘Disconnect From Desire’ with renewed vigour.

Opening track ‘Ablaze’ establishes a sweetness that lingers throughout and ‘SVIIB’s bright synthpop is life-affirming stuff, whether in the glitchy beat patterns of ‘Signals’ or the clattering electro wormholes of ‘Music Takes Me’.
‘Elias’ and ‘Confusion’ use elongated synth lines to build Deheza’s soft phrases into billowing layers, her vocals landing like warm breaths on icy glass. “I’ll never understand why it turned out like this”, she sings on ‘Elias’, “Till then, I dream of you”. Closer ‘This Is Our Time’ continues the healing process: “Every time, every night, we fall in love again” she concludes, a reminder of the power we have to remember and remake. ‘SVIIB’ does both. Indeed, the only real drawback is that Deheza too often picks uniform shifts between verse and chorus over more expansive arrangements. Electro march ‘On My Heart’ never quite unleashes the tribal patterns hiding just beneath its verses, while ‘A Thousand Times More’ rather disappointingly lets power-pop melodies fall into predictable motion.

Completing this album after such great loss was never going to be easy, but Deheza uses euphoria to attack the incalculable spectrum of grief head on. Her resilience succeeds in transforming heartache into hope, and ‘SVIIB’ is a fitting eulogy for a musician and a band ever connected with both.

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