Following the untimely death of Benjamin Curtis in 2013, it would have been entirely understandable if his cohort Alejandra Deheza had abandoned School Of Seven Bells. It is to her credit that she’s taken the work that the pair created before Curtis’ passing and, with the help of producer Justin Meldal-Johnsen, shaped what will presumably be the last album from the band. SVIIB works on a number of levels. It is a labour of love. It is a representation of Deheza’s desire to deliver one final statement. It is, in the simplest terms, a wonderful synth-pop album. It is a representation of a friendship and unconditional love. Ultimately, it is a wonderful celebration.
The album might have been finished in unfortunate circumstances, but the majority was written before Curtis’ diagnosis. The emotional ups and downs that these songs document are primarily down to Deheza’s decision to attempt to document her relationship with Curtis. It is perhaps the fact that this is an album that was written as a celebration and depiction of a bond that at the time had a future that makes SVIIB such a beautiful but devastating listen.
Opening track, Ablaze, sets the bar for everything that is to come. A thumping and celebratory opening, complete with angelic cooing from Deheza and right from the off we’re in hands in the air territory. The positivity simply pours from every note and line, although the context of lines like “The day we met, I was a new fire whose heart had be drowning for so long, when I was dark you found a glowing amber and sent my world into a blaze again” can’t help but take on a ridiculously poignant edge given the context the song now occupies.
Open Your Eyes is more devastating still, documenting heart break and the ups and downs of a relationship, but also offering reassurance and comfort. It’s the song that perhaps defines the album more than any other. Synth-pop can often seem cold and distant, and at times insular and inhuman. Where SVIIB succeeds, constantly, is in giving these songs a pounding heart that over flows with love whatever the circumstances might be between the protagonists in the songs. There are moments when the album is overwhelming. Confusion for example is a tough listen, as delicate and beautiful as it might be, it is hard not to be touched by lines like “we spent so long facing the days together, that I forgot how to be different from us”. The cuteness wrapped up in Elias’ love letter lines and pet names (“my little fire) is heartwarming and heartbreaking simultaneously. It’s hard to imagine that this was ever a band that named an album Disconnect From Desire, so deep are the emotions that Curtis, Deheza and Meldal-Johnsen have conjured on these songs.
If all this sounds like an emotional rollercoaster, then it’s worth noting that there are big fat tunes to get stuck into as well. Those coming to the album with no knowledge of the backstory will find much to enjoy here. SVIIB is by far most direct and beguiling album the band ever released, and it’s perfectly easy to get lost in the melodies of Curtis’ guitars and synths or the wonderful ache of Deheza’s vocals. There are concessions to more carnal needs too, and Signals is a thumping tune, with a wonderfully rough edge that hints at Curtis’ days in Secret Machines. Music Takes Me is a little more sultry but embraces the elegant pop tones achieved by B52s on Good Stuff (really).
Closing track This Is Our Time is both understated and cinematic in scope. Deheza’s vocal performance here is utterly beautiful as she wraps around the synths that define the School Of Seven Bells sound. When she sings “our time is indestructible” she’s summing up not only her relationship with Curtis, but also the legacy of School Of Seven Bells. If this is to be the band’s swansong, they’ve left behind something timeless and quite beautiful.