School of Seven Bells – SVIIB

 The tragic and untimely death of founder member Benjamin Curtis in December 2013 signalled the premature end of a promising career for School of Seven Bells. Having started out as a trio comprising of Curtis and twin sisters  Alejandra and Claudia Deheza,  they continued to record as a duo following Claudia’s departure in 2010 just after the release of their very well received second album Disconnect From Desire.

Recorded before Curtis passed away after a short battle with lymphoblastic lymphoma, fourth album SVIIB is a welcome footnote to the School of Seven Bells story; while it marks no great departure from their trademark ethereal shoegaze sound, it is by some distance the strongest of their four albums. The fact that it their final record  adds a layer of poignancy, as there is enough evidence here to suggest they were only really beginning to hit their creative peak.

Previous albums had displayed their mastery in the recording studio – their records were well produced, technically accomplished affairs, but lacked a little emotional depth.  But SVIIB adds real warmth and poignancy to the sonic wizadry to make this their best album to date. Opening track ‘Ablaze’ bursts into life, an explosion of MBV influenced shoegaze noise. ‘On My Heart’ features one of the many big synth hooks scattered across this album, and demonstrates the new found warmth in their sound.

‘Open Your Eyes’ is just beautiful  – Deheza’s vocals drifting into Liz Fraser territory in the way she phrases certain lines;  the Cocteau Twins influence has always been a feature of their sound and it is at its most pronounced on this track. The hazy dreampop of ‘A Thousand Times More’ and the lush electronic melancholia of ‘Elias’ are two big highlights before the album settles into a slightly uneven pattern for the second half of the record.

But even here, they still manage moments that perfect straddle the line between bittersweet sadness and something approaching uplifting euphoria. SVIIB is a fitting end to the brief and sadly truncated School of Seven Bells story; it is an apt reminder of the talent and creativity of one of its creators, the sadly missed Benjamin Curtis.

3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)