School of Seven Bells Ghostory

[Vagrant; 2012]

Rating: 3/5

Styles: dream power pop, trip hop, gazer-lite, industrial-lite
Others: On! Air! Library!, Secret Machines, Medicine, Pretenders, Hooverphonic, TV on the Radio, Tamaryn, Cocteau Twins

So here is School of Seven Bells, minus one (Claudia Dehaza), with their third album, Ghostory, but things are very much business as usual: There’s the usual grace, density, and new ageyness; there’s the strangely multitracked vocals (it’s spooky how little this element has changed); and there’s pop-precision placidness to the delivery of earnest and impassioned sentiments like “the time has come to reappear into your life.”

Perhaps the formula they’ve found has elements of stagnancy on the surface, but time spent with any SVIIB LP reveals charms for those who like airy, emotive, bygone pop music. There’s an innocence to the melodies they favor that makes anyone who’s ever swooned to “Eyes Without a Face” or “Take My Breath Away” feel at home. Things may feel a bit poncey at first, but by the time you get to the runaway train lovebuzz of “Scavenger,” one can easily find themselves in a crazy, stretchy exercise gauze sort of rapture.

As with Nite Jewel’s latest album, Ghostory shows how an increasing number of musicians are making throwback music with more wit and imagination than their forebears. It’s exciting to hear well-trodden sounds designed for pleasure being made afresh, almost like Drive shaking up its own cache of passé themes for film lovers who like their junk food and ruffage in equal measure.

Curiously, they’ve shaved a track off of each release. Starting with 11 for Alpinisms, 10 for Disconnect From Desire, and 9 for this one. But maybe they should’ve gone with 8. “When You Sing” is easily the weakest thing on here, reminding me of In The Loop’s Jamie MacDonald frenzied allergic reaction to opera: “It’s just VOWELS!” Indeed, it’s just sustained vowels over some sputtering “Soon”-ish detritus, and the eight-minute padding makes previous wince-inducing indulgences (there are a few; mostly lyric-related) seem quaint by comparison.

But all gripes aside, Ghostory is well on par with the strident ephemera to which followers of this project have become accustomed. The big gooey grabbers like “Half Asleep” or “My Cabal” are more or less absent both here and the album previous. But in their place is a greater wealth of deep cuts with a meticulous quality that’ll sneak up in your dreams and most likely pop you one.

Links: School of Seven Bells - Vagrant

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