Benjamin Curtis and School of Seven Bells have ensured that they won’t be forgotten any time soon.
In discussing School of Seven Bells’ final album, SVIIB, and the tragic death of founding member Benjamin Curtis, lead vocalist Alejandra Deheza said, “Benjamin and I wrote this record during a tour break in the summer of 2012. I can easily say that it was one of the most creative and inspired summers of our lives. What followed was the most tragic, soul-shaking tidal wave that life could deliver, but even that wouldn’t stop the vision for this record from being realized. This is a love letter from start to finish. It’s the story of us starting from that first day we met in 2004 and that’s the story of School of Seven Bells.” From the first note of SVIIB, it’s clear that Deheza’s statement is not only true, it’s also an understatement. This record is rife with love and heartache, pain and hope and it’s a love letter to Curtis and fans of the band as much as it is evidence of the fiery enthusiasm that School of Seven Bells used to fuel their music and their mission. Seeing as this is the last we’ll see of the band—in it’s original form anyway—SVIIB is both an excellent next step in their musical evolution and a fitting goodbye to what they were. Short and sweet, this is a record the band should be remembered by and one that they and their fans can walk away from with a sense of closure.
SVIIB begins with “Ablaze,” a driving, upbeat radio-ready pop tune. Bolstered by her sister Claudia providing harmonies, Deheza’s vocals are strong, confident and thick, taking control of the beat-driven synths. The music is bittersweet considering the context, but it’s the lyrics that truly set the tone for the album. Deheza lays her soul to bare as she sings, “The day we met/ There was a new fire/ Who’s heart had burned/ Drowning for so long/ When I was dark/ You found a glowing ember/ And set my world/ Into ablaze again.” As this record is both a love letter to Curtis and School of Seven Bells fans, the impact of this track is two-fold. It serves as an ode to a lost loved one as well as a tribute to those who’ve supported their music. Loaded and heavy, the record isn’t weighed down here; it dares to get to the heart of pain and tribute early in order to make this whole experience as personal for the listener as it is for the artists.
“On My Heart” is a bit more somber, but it keeps a steady bass beat that makes a head-bop a forgone conclusion. It can be likened to songs from The Naked & Famous, more concerned with atmospherics than standard pop architecture. It makes good use of vocal looping and electric fuzz and follows “Ablaze” up nicely.
“A Thousand Times More” brings the guitar to the forefront and differentiates the tune from earlier SVIIB tracks. It makes use of synth effects that bleep and bloop and sneak some ‘90s pop sensibilities to a record that is a strictly modern take on synth-pop. Deheza lets her vocal range shine here as well by dipping into lower registers and then raising the pitch for the chorus to give the tune a tremendous ebb and flow.
“Signals” and “Music Takes Me” are the more experimental tracks on SVIIB. They stray away from the radio-friendliness of the earlier tracks by incorporating odd noises that alone would be just that. School of Seven Bells are no fools, however. They take a don’t-bore-us-get-to-the-chorus stance by keeping the stranger, spacier elements short enough to allow the choruses to break up the oddities, but maintain them long enough to allow those pieces to take effect.
SVIIB comes to a close with “This Is Our Time.” It’s dramatic and beautiful, but maintains a beat that never allows for typical radio-pop fatigue. It’s a melancholy track but has a chorus that pays off in buckets of hooks and dramatics. Deheza declares that, “Our time is indestructible” here, and understanding the turmoil she and her sister have gone through leading up to this album’s release, it’s a fitting final statement.
Seeing as SVIIB is a love letter to fans and a farewell to Curtis, this is a much more personal experience than any typical synth-pop record. That unfortunately makes the content a bit difficult to break into for folks seeking out new music. While the tunes are wildly accessible, and the simplicity of the lyrics can rope in just about anyone, there’s a feeling of being on the outside looking in here, like this one’s just for the die-hards. There’s nothing wrong with that considering the circumstances, of course, but that can limit the listening audience. Going back and starting with School of Seven Bells’ debut, Alpinism, may be a better place to start for newbies, truthfully enough. On the other hand, for those already familiar with the band, SVIIB is the perfect punctuation mark on their all-too-short career. It doesn’t act as an ellipsis that promises the possibility of more; it’s a period, a final statement. A goodbye and a thank you. It’s a shame that tragedy forced School of Seven Bells’ hand, but SVIIB will leave a lasting impression. If there’s one thing everyone wishes for the deceased it’s that their legacy will live on. Here, both Benjamin Curtis and School of Seven Bells have ensured that they won’t be forgotten any time soon.