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School of Seven Bells: Alpinisms (2008) February 17, 2009

Posted by sjroby in Music.
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Alpinisms

School of Seven Bells: Alpinisms

Alpinisms is a fresh and enjoyable new take on the 4AD/dreampop/shoegazer scenes. There are echoes of the past, but they’re not remaking the Cocteau Twins’ Heaven or Las Vegas or My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless. School of Seven Bells is developing its own distinctive style.

There have been hundreds of bands, at least, who’ve tried to recapture the magic of the 4AD sound exemplified by the Cocteau Twins, This Mortal Coil, and Dead Can Dance. Whole record companies have been formed to do just that (Projekt, for example), and even the 4AD label itself released music by Cocteau Twins wannabes Swallow. Even when those bands actually had people who’d worked with This Mortal Coil and Dead Can Dance, like the shortlived project Heavenly Bodies, the result was a pastiche that was briefly enjoyable but had none of the substance or staying power of the real thing. The same thing has been happening with the revival of the shoegazer scene, with no shortage of people trying to be the next Slowdive, Ride, or My Bloody Valentine.

School of Seven Bells was formed by members of the bands Secret Machines and On! Air! Library! SVIIB, as it’s abbreviated, is more accessible than its more experimental predecessors. The clear, clean vocals of sisters Alejandra and Claudia Deheza would sound appropriate on a ’70s British folk album or an ’80s This Mortal Coil album, not unlike the latter’s Rutkowski sisters. I’m also reminded a bit of some of the singers from His Name Is Alive’s early 4AD albums. But the music offers a wider mix of styles, some songs with more of an electronic dance music feel, some more ethereal, some closer to mainstreamish alternative pop. Throughout the musical variety, the album nonetheless has a consistent feel, unified by the Dehezas’ vocals.

“Half Asleep” is neo-shoegazer with a danceable beat that would sound good alongside something by melodic electronica/shoegazer crossover specialists M83 and Ulrich Schnauss. “Wired for Light” starts with a bit of an ethnotechno feel but adds more of a rock electric guitar sound through the course of the song. “Prince of Peace” is an upbeat but subtly ominous song, reminding me of Jarboe’s 13 Masks album.

It can be frustrating to read reviews that talk about a band or an album as a bit of this other band with a bit of that other band playing a cross between this style of music and that, but when discussing a new band with a distinctive sound that nonetheless has some obvious influences, what else can you do? This band, at least, is definitely more than just the sum of its influences.

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