Born as a trio, featuring identical-twin sisters Alejandra and Claudia Dehaza, the Brooklyn-based School of Seven Bells found duo-hood forced upon then when Claudia announced in October of last year that she was leaving. While Alejandra was the songwriter of the two—she and guitarist Benjamin Curtis compose the band’s music—there was concern (by me, anyway) that the twosome version of SVIIB would suffer in comparison. The twin-sister harmonies were central to the band’s presentation; Curtis, in fact, told NPR in 2008 that the sisters’ precise, heavenly vocal synthesis was “the most important part of School of Seven Bells,” adding: “Everything else is accompaniment, you know, in my opinion.”
But life goes on: as it turns out, the instantly seductive tone of the Dehaza voice, at once sweet and searing, remains intact, and Alejandra does a splendid job now harmonizing with herself. How this will work in performance remains a question, but the duo version of the band, recorded, sounds pretty much the same as the trio—which is a fine thing for a band with such a distinctive sound to begin with. While the label-fixated blogosphere tosses SVIIB quickly into the dream pop or shoegaze box, this is a band that from the start has been blessed with a truly individual sound: a whirly, driven amalgam that floats airy atmospherics over a guitar-heavy core, while featuring a harmonic language that does not always feel Western and lyrics that veer towards a mystical kind of incomprehensibility.
“The Night” has an itchy vibe; launching from a sparse, uncentered interplay between two opposing guitar sounds, the song takes off at a running clip and yet also fosters an ineffable tension. Listen carefully and you’ll see how few chords are employed here. If I’m not mistaken, we may not have a chord change until 1:20. Note the lyrical clue at 0:50, when, still on the opening chord, Dehaza sings, “You’ve frozen my thoughts/You’ve frozen me out/I’m in the same place you left me baby.” We go from there into the chorus and still the music, almost claustrophobically, refuses to offer a chord progression for yet another 20 seconds. We have been set a purposeful, musical trap, and the song ultimately delivers, but for reasons which defy explicit description. Chalk it up to the same alchemy that allows SVIIB to craft its unique sound from the same ingredients theoretically available to everyone else.
“The Night” is the first track the duo has made available from their upcoming album,
Ghostory, which is due in late in February as a joint release by Vagrant Records and Ghostly International. MP3 via Pitchfork. School of Seven Bells were featured previously on Fingertips in 2008.