School of Seven Bells, “SVIIB”

School_Of_Seven_Bells-2016-SVIIB_coverSchool of Seven Bells
SVIIB
VAGRANT
7/10

The first words heard on SVIIB’s lead single “Open Your Eyes” are “moving on,” and yet the repetitive vocal is interrupted, cut up, cut off, and isolated from emotion and movement itself. These words echo the ravaged emotions that anyone who’s ever tried to leave the pangs of tragedy behind too quickly will recognize. But floating above the stuttering mess is Alejandra Deheza’s whispered voice: “Open your eyes, love.”

With a title that evokes the end of an era, SVIIB is the final album from School of Seven Bells—the dreamy indie-pop band that formed nearly a decade ago when Deheza met Secret Machine’s cofounder Benjamin Curtis. Three albums later, Curtis was diagnosed with T-cell lymphoblastic lymphoma in 2013. He died the same year. But like a glorious coda, a set of buoyant songs the romantic pair had written the summer before Curtis’ diagnosis was completed last year as a synth-driven follow-up to Ghostory with Justin Meldal-Johnsen (Beck, M83) behind the boards. The result is a thematic anachronism: part posthumous release, part silver-lining jazz funeral.

The band has never sounded this jubilant with obvious pop hit ambitions as it opens with “Ablaze,” a sugary, rave-in-progress. While “Signals” teeters too closely to radio-ready generics, “Music Takes Me” features a glistening guitar buzz that sounds like an apocalyptic alarm pulling Deheza’s staccato word puzzles out of nowhere land. “I understand nothing of these changes,” she sings solemnly over the birdsong and whirring mechanics of album highlight “Confusion,” sounding both warm and chillingly glacial at the same time. It’s the sound of moving on.

SVIIB is no act of mourning. It’s a celebration of an artists’ final work, and a rare moment when pop art reaches the soaring heights of soliloquy.

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