The backstory on this album is a doozy…
School of Seven Bells formed back in 2007 when twin sisters Alejandra and Claudia Deheza from On!Air!Library! shared an opening bill for Interpol with Secret Machines and met Benjamin Curtis from Secret Machines. The trio eventually left their respective bands to form School of Seven Bells. They released some singles and their debut album “Alpinisms” came out in 2008. They had some success with their debut and by the time they released their second album two years later, it debuted in the Billboard Top 10 Electronic Albums chart. During that tour in 2010, Claudia left the band and her sister Alejandra and Curtis who had been a couple, broke up. That would be enough to end most bands, but no, the duo kept moving along. They released a third album in 2012 which also cracked the Top 10 Electronic Albums chart. Then early in 2013 Curtis announced he had lymphoma. By the end of the year, Curtis had passed away at the age of 35. A few months after that, Deheza released a School of Seven Bells cover of Joey Ramone’s “I Got Knocked Down (But I’ll Get Up)” that was recorded while Curtis was in the hospital. The two had remained very close friends after they stopped dating.
It turns out their 4th album was nearly finished around the time Curtis got sick. Deheza initially had no desire to finish the work to complete the album, she wasn’t in a good place and still grieving Curtis’ death. However, last year she moved out from NY to LA and started work on completing the album with producer Justin Meldal-Johnsen (who’s worked with Beck and M83). Even though “SVIIB” finally came out recently more than two years after Curtis’ death, he still played a prominent role since most of the work had been completed prior to his demise. In fact, only one track “Confusion” was written after his diagnosis, and it was the last song they worked on together. The album is all about Deheza and Curtis’s relationship. She had the intention from the beginning that she wanted to chronicle their time together. She never actually told Curtis this, but the songs trace the whole arc of their relationship. Deheza stated that during the time they had been working on the album it was one of the happiest times in their lives. That explains why there is so much joy and positivism in most of the tracks. The album stands well on its own given any context, but when you listen to it given what actually transpired it elevates everything up to a whole different level. This album serves as a celebration and remembrance of not only Curtis as a person, but of the decade both of them spent together and the influence they had on each other’s lives.
The three cuts below represent 33% of the album. I won’t tell you where they’re placed on the album, you can listen to the lyrics and see if you can guess for yourself (or just look up the track listing online if you need to know).
“On My Heart” – Classic electronic sound as this track starts up. Deheza’s vocals provide a great accompaniment to the music as waves of synthesizers pulse in the background of the verses. Her singing of “with me your love stays” is the main hook on this track, as it repeats over and over in the latter part of the song.
“Open Your Eyes” – I hear some elements of The Knife in the music part of this track. Knowing how this album transpired, the chorus tugs at the heart. Plus, it’s extremely catchy and it will get stuck in your head. This track is one of the few melancholic ones on the album.
“Signals” – This is hardest hitting cut on the album, showing more of a dance groove. Alejandra’s vocals take on a singing/rap cadence during the verses, hitting right on the beat. This song also features some majestic sounding synthesizers and some nice vocal processing during the choruses. You can also hear some elements of M83 in this song (no doubt from the producer).