My Bloody Valentine perfected the beautiful bludgeon on their 1991 masterpiece, Loveless, then, on that album's graceful final track, "Soon", pointed in a totally new direction. As universally revered as "Soon" has become, most shoegaze aficionados chose to ignore its suggestion that they go out and do their own thing. Sure, some good music has resulted from Loveless' legacy-- and younger generations’ fascination with 4AD's lush back catalogue. But more often than not, the faithful stuff sounds stubbornly nostalgic, even hopelessly dated. Dense melodic noise dominated School of Seven Bells' debut LP, Alpinisms. But the album also toyed with world music rhythms and Eastern mysticism that, if nothing else, stamped it as a member of Brooklyn's Class of 2008. It's a good record, but Alpinisms can sound stylistically tentative and the musical partnership of twin sisters Claudia and Alejandra Deheza and Benjamin Curtis originally smacked of a one-off.
With artistic success comes greater conviction, and there is a greater certainty to their beats, their melodies and even their lyrics this time around. All are once again dressed in that trademark production haze much beloved of the Cocteau Twins and Robin Guthrie, perfect for a hot day's listen.
School of Seven Bells writes relatively simple songs. However, where another band might scale down in the name of simplicity, this band goes expansive. On the new album, like on the debut, Alpinisms, it’s all about melody. Each song finds its basis in a catchy and pretty melody, sung and harmonized by the twin sisters, Claudia and Alejandra Deheza. Around the voices comes sequencing, jangling guitars and synthesizers. The songs don’t have much texture: just vocals and what amounts to a backing track (the music never really grabs your notice separately). They also don’t have many parts to them besides a catchy verse and a catchy chorus and sometimes a wordless melodic part. Still, even with these few layers, School of Seven Bells manages to pull off a big sound. Though there is synthetic feel to the album, it still conveys a sense of majesty that comes across naturally, as if you can hear the room too—or, as if the band was performing on a mountaintop.
If you want an example of how pop music and globalism have walked hand in hand through history, look at the jukebox. In the roadside cafe of Lyndsay Anderson's If... the 1958 floorstanding Rock-Ola jukebox pumps out the Congolese 'Sanctus' from Missa Luba, and race and sex collide for the young rulers of the British empire for whom their bloody implication in global hegemony is just becoming apparent ("if England lives, who dies?"). The soundtracks of Wong Kar Wai have been collectively dubbed Wong's Global Jukebox by critics, and in Fallen Angels we are cocooned with Michelle Reiss in an exquisite catch between colonisation and liberation, as the narcotic neon of Laurie Anderson and the Wurlitzer deliver self-pleasuring American sexuality in the bars of Hong Kong.
Swooning hard, straight out of the gate, School of Seven Bells open their sophomore album with “Windstorm,” an affecting and all-around lovely song that sets the tone — and the bar — for the rest of the record. “When the fires burn from sky to ground/ Swing my weight around/ Begin the windstorm.” The lyrics, muddled as they are, offer a fitting précis for the School’s stylistic intentions. Using synthesizers to create gauzy, swirling canvases of sound, there’s a tangible sense of drive, of a slow-burning combustion throughout Disconnect From Desire, as well as its predecessor. The drum machines at the climax of “Windstorm,” however, announce a subtle shift for School of Seven Bells, moving away from Kraut motorik into full-blown 90s electronica revivalism.