School of Seven Bells – ‘Alpinisms’

December 22, 2008 § Leave a comment

Published: The Vine, December 22, 2008.

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School of Seven Bells
Alpinisms
(Speak n Spell/Inertia)

School of Seven Bells come from a distinguished coterie. Comprising Ben Curtis of Texan indie rockers Secret Machines and sultry-voiced twin sisters Alejandra and Claudia Deheza of New York trio On!Air!Library!, the ensemble have shared studios and remixes with the likes of Prefuse 73 and Robin Guthrie (of Cocteau Twins fame) among several others during their short reign of EP and 7-inch offerings.

Their dreamily hued full-length debut is a good explanation as to why. Alpinisms’ hazy, electronic phraseology and sun-drunk sleepiness evokes a wash of artists from both pop and atmospheric worlds. Across 11 densely layered cuts, the trio visit terrains as disparate as droned-out shoegaze, kraut-rock angularities, subtly rendered IDM and blissful pop. Suffice to say, there’s plenty of colour.

The arcing vocal harmonies, flourishing splashes of melody and shuddering beat patterns of cuts like opener ‘Iamundernodisguise’ and follow-up ‘Face to Face on High Places’ make for a stunning introduction. In other places, buzzing electronics feed off blunted guitar lines (see ‘Connjur’) and stark bass lines slink beneath angelic wafts of melody (‘White Elephant Coat’).
While the Deheza sisters’ hopelessly stunning vocal work is an obvious reference point during such moments, it’s Curtis’s negotiation of rhythmic, melodic and atmospheric counterpoints that really drives them. He manages to assuage both opacity and dynamics, density and inflection; electronics contribute to, rather than preoccupy, his tonal pop arrangements.

But while there’s no doubt that the group have their aesthetics in order, the further Alpinisms rolls out, the clearer it becomes that their song writing stocks are a little light on. The pretty sonics of much of this record – the 12-minute epic ‘Sempiternal/Amaranth’ included – fail to deliver meaningful, emotive or particularly resonant vocal lines. The experience is all too fleeting.

It would be overly harsh to phrase this attractive record in terms of style over substance, but it wouldn’t be entirely inaccurate. School of Seven Bells have a wonderful sound; perhaps they just need to grow into it.

Dan Rule

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