School of Seven Bells is the new project from ex-Secret Machines guitarist Benjamin Curtis and twin sisters Alejandra and Claudia Deheza, formerly of On! Air! Library!
With soaring harmonies by the Deheza sisters and Mr. Curtis, "Alpinisms," their exquisitely layered debut, transports the listener into SOSB's sleepy dreamscape. The album is equal parts Kate Bush and Stereolab with a little prog. rock and psychedelica thrown in for good measure.
"Iamundernodisguise" gets things started with chanting vocals complemented by a mixture of analog and electronic instrumentation, conveying a more Eastern motif. The lyrics, sparse but powerful, show the underlying spiritual undertones found throughout the entire album:
I am neither breather nor speaker
I am neither walker nor sleeper
I am neither sister brother son nor daughter
Solely in my chest is my heart a drum of water
I am under no disguise
"Half Asleep," the first single off of "Alpinisms," starts off with shimmering vocals, showcasing the Deheza sisters perfect pitch harmonies. It's a catchy piece, surely to help pick up a few new fans on their recent tour with M83, a band who shares some of the same sonic elements with School of Seven Bells.
"Alpinisms" evokes the inevitable shoegaze comparisons, My Bloody Valentine in particular, especially on closer "My Cabal," with its crushing wall-of-sound effects and layered vocals.
Some may find the Enya-like new age vocals off putting on songs like "White Elephant Coat" and "For Kalaja Mari." Those songs, although not the strongest points on the album, add color and depth to an already stellar collection of tunes.
The name of the album references French poet René Daumal, who defined alpinisms as "the art of climbing mountains." According to guitarist Alejandra Deheza, the term refers to "mountain climbing songs," a fitting description of the songs, which combine billowing grace with ethereal beauty to lift you to great heights.