School of Seven Bells, Ghostory
By daniel hopkins
February 28, 2012
If School of Seven Bells existed during my teenage years, I would not have been allowed to listen to it. My parents worked hard to protect me from all the back masking and "evil hidden messages" rumored to be so common in popular music at the time. School of Seven Bells, with their penchant for mystical imagery—the cover of their previous album, Disconnect From Desire, shows a sigil—would have been a no-brainer for my parents 20 years ago.
However, I would have loved them.
My record collection was heavy on whatever dream-pop I could sneak in. At one point, I had convinced my father that My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless was a Christian record. He thought it all sounded the same anyway, but there was something in shoegaze that resonated with me more than any other genre. In the same way that songs like “Soon” and “To Here Knows When” invoke a blissed-out trance, so too does Ghostory. Only, where Loveless is hazy and sunbleached, Ghostory feels pristine, clear and cold.
School of Seven Bells, particularly multi-instrumentalist and producer Benjamin Curtis, has long been a student of the shoegaze genre. One of his early bands, Tripping Daisy, often incorporated elements of shoegaze into their later records. Then, when he and his brother Brandon moved to New York to form Secret Machines, swirling, echoing guitars played an even bigger role in their sound. The shoegaze sound culminated, finally, when School of Seven Bells released their 2008 debut, Alpinisms. The record was steeped in the genre, making no apologies for it.
Alpinisms showcased the distinct, intertwining vocals of twin sisters Claudia and Alejandra Deheza, but the music and production of Curtis was the understated hero. It wasn’t until the band’s follow-up, Disconnect, that his touch began to shine through. Songs like “Bye Bye Bye,” and “Windstorm,” the band’s best single to date, showed the tasteful use of impeccable rhythms and still allowed the Deheza twins to take center stage. The album was released and the band planned a world tour. That’s when something devastating happened. Claudia suddenly left the band, leaving behind a duo. No explanation has since been given, but fans and critics speculated the end of the band was near.
However, Ghostory hits with a stronger stride than the band has ever had. The new record evens out the hills and valleys of Disconnect, which made up for a few filler tracks with powerful singles. Ghostory is not without its heavy hitting songs. In fact, it loads them on the front end.
The record kicks off with “The Night,” a solid, upbeat album starter that hints at a lighter, more simplified sound. “Love Play” nods toward dubstep with a deep, gritty bass line and a slowed break beat. The song releases with the album’s most open chorus. “Lafaye,” the album’s first official single, is its strongest, highlighting the use of electronic trance rhythms leading into the record’s most memorable hook.
Ghostory’s final track, “When You Sing,” is the band’s most unabashed homage to My Bloody Valentine’s “Soon.” Really, there’s nothing wrong with an artist wearing its influences on its sleeve, especially when offering its own unique voice. That comes in the form of Deheza’s powerful vocals, which are at times reminiscent of Cocteau Twins’ singer Elizabeth Fraser.
Deheza’s influence goes deeper than just the vocals. She seems to be obsessed with the mystic, and like the band’s previous two efforts, it’s apparent, from the cover art to the trance-inducing melodies.
Ghostory, though dark at times, is certainly good enough to sneak into my record collection today. Just don’t tell my mom and dad.