School of Seven Bells Disconnect From Desire

[Vagrant; 2010]

Rating: 2.5/5

Styles: dream pop, electronica revivalism
Others: Cocteau Twins, Hope Sandoval, Asobi Seksu

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.

More to the point, none of Disconnect From Desire’s strongest songs would have sounded out of place on the back half of Surrender or Dig Your Own Hole. School Of Seven Bells draw heavily from a fairly diverse range of Northern British influences; the guitar, as played by former Secret Machinist Benjamin Curtis, jangles in a very Glaswegian, C86-indebted fashion; the increased emphasis on BPM brings Madchester to mind. But by placing beats at the forefront of their sound, School of Seven Bells sacrifice some of their personality in the service of disappointingly mediocre material.

Too much of Disconnect From Desire is an interchangeable muddle of middling drum programming and Teflon Liz Fraser vocals. The twin harmonies of the Deheza sisters, Alejandra and Claudia, are more than lush, but less than distinctive. What ultimately distinguishes a song like “I L U” from “Dial” or from “Bye Bye Bye” is not a variation of tempo, structure, mode, or tone, but rather the stickiness of the chorus, the quality of the songwriting itself. So, while “Babelonia,” “I L U,” and “Windstorm” shimmer brightly, the back half of the album feels like a dreary retread. No amount of electronic propulsion can disguise the fact that very few of these songs go anywhere at all.

It would be easy to use “dreamy” as a reductive shorthand for School of Seven Bells’ style, but Disconnect From Desire’s neo-psychedelia is snoozy and forgettable. It takes a special kind of band to leave you feeling disappointment rather than indifference. School of Seven Bells have done better before, and Disconnect From Desire shows, in too-brief flashes, the heavenly heights they are capable of reaching when they aren’t busy grasping at empty air.

Links: School of Seven Bells - Vagrant

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