The band School of Seven Bells is comprised of twin sisters Alejandra and Claudia Deheza (formerly of On! Air! Library!) and Benjamin Curtis (formerly of Secret Machines). Their 2008 debut album “Alpinisms” was an immensely compelling piece of shoegazey dream pop that smartly used each members’ specific talents to their collective advantage. Thanks to songs like “Half Asleep”, “Connjur” and “My Cabal”, there were also plenty of hooks to go around amidst the haze and fuzz the guitars and synths often brought to the table. Throw in some stellar vocal harmonies and it’s a winning combination that earned the group the right sort of buzz and year-end praise from the right kinds of people. After spending the last couple years touring relentlessly, School of Seven Bells took what little time off they had and used it to craft their sophmore effort “Disconnect From Desire”, which will be available everywhere next week.
From the very first notes of opening track “Windstorm”, there’s a noticeable difference in the band’s sound compared to their debut. The vocals are no longer shoved into the background, wrapped in effects or overdubbed to give them more heft. Instead, the Deheza sisters come in more clearly than ever and interweave with one another with all the beauty and grace you might expect. The synths are also much heavier on this new album, maintaining the darker dream-like state of affairs but lightening up on the shoegaze guitar work. And as for drums, the trio continues to use a drum machine, though they’ve recently recruited a drummer to play with them at shows. These adjustments serve the band well when it comes to maintaining a cohesive sound across the entire album. Many of the songs blend into one another and there are large segments that feel like continuations from the same sonic palette and lyrical themes. All these changes are big enough to get your attention, but small enough that it doesn’t affect the overall sound/mood the band has previously established. In other words, if you liked the sound of “Alpinisms”, there’s still a high likelihood that you’ll also enjoy what the band is doing on “Disconnect From Desire”.
That doesn’t mean the album is without problems though. Where “Alpinisms” had its greatest successes, “Disconnect From Desire” doesn’t quite deliver. The presumably smart move of creating a more cohesive sounding record also works against the band in this case, as there are large sections that fail to stand out or stick with you for an extended period of time. Earworms like “Iamundernodisguise” or “Prince of Peace” that followed the standard verse-chorus-verse structure could effectively stick in your head for days at a time. They were also well within the boundaries of your average pop song, averaging 3-4 minutes in length across the album, save for a couple tracks. On “Disconnect from Desire”, the average track length is 5+ minutes, and the choruses come around less frequently in favor of atmospherics and general beauty. In other words, it sounds really nice, but there’s a chance you might wind up bored by it after awhile. The album may only span 10 tracks and about 60 minutes, but don’t be surprised if you start checking your watch after 30 minutes wondering exactly when things are going to wrap up. Of course the shortest stuff is also the easiest to swallow, from first single “Windstorm” to “Bye Bye Bye” (which is NOT an N’Sync cover). It’s in these moments that School of Seven Bells sound their richest and most engaging – in other words, like they did on “Alpinisms”.
So “Disconnect From Desire” isn’t quite the home run that the band and many others had hoped for. It is still a largely fascinating album that does well by itself in crafting a solid and cohesive soundscape to get lost inside of. In other words, it’s a good record to put on when you’ve got enough free time to commit to listening start to finish with little to distract you. It’s when you don’t have that time and are looking for only the highlights that you might have a little trouble. Ultimately the lack of highly memorable songs is what hurts this sophmore effort, but not as much as you might reasonably expect. With all the talent this band packs vocally via the gorgeously unique harmonies of the Deheza sisters and instrumentally via the smooth and hazy soundscapes that Benjamin Curtis plays a large part in crafting, there’s too much they’re doing right to call this album anywhere near bad. Instead it plays out as only slightly weaker than their amazing debut. If you’re new to School of Seven Bells, “Alpinisms” is still probably your best bet for an introduction, but “Disconnect From Desire” continues to pay lip service to those looking to journey a little further down the rabbit hole.