SVIIB is the fourth and final album from School Of Seven Bells. Following the death of instrumentalist Benjamin Curtis in 2013, the other half of the duo, Alejandra Deheza, has completed the record they wrote together prior to his death.
I’m very grateful that she did because the opening of the album is the best I've heard in a long time. ‘Ablaze’ begins with a simple descending bass line and a wordless melody that explode into a euphoric burst of a chorus that immediately feels like a packed Saturday night dance floor with hot lights In your face, arms in the air, and drums pounding in your chest. Basking in the afterglow of a one night stand who has just left you naked, spent and slightly achy as the first shaft of morning sun spills through the bedsit curtains.
Instantly familiar but also fresh, it is dreampop that is worthy of the name. The semi-submerged vocals and tight claustrophobic rhythms are the epitome of urban living. It’s close. It’s concrete. It’s blinding winter sunshine through wire fences. It’s dodging traffic, and dogshit on the pavement. It's the passing of a thousand strangers and the bump of shoulders. The exquisite vocal hook, lush keyboards and guitars condense an entire week of urban life into four minutes.
After such a beginning the intensity of emotion inevitably cannot be maintained for the length of an album and after a while it all gets a bit samey. There are prime-era U2 effected guitars and the quintessentially ‘80s sound of gated snare and cymbal-less beats. Along the way Pet Shop Boys, Human League and Vince Clarke pop up while Deheza’s vocals have more than a hint of Liz Fraser’s layered, floaty and ethereal tones. Her restrained lilting vocal elevates songs like 'On My Heart' to must-hear levels.
Retrofuturist electro groups are ten-a-penny right now and any act trying to prove worthy of our time has to do something special. Deheza teamed up with Justin Meldal-Johnsen to complete the album. He's a long-time collaborator with Beck and produced M83's Hurry Up, We're Dreaming, the influence of which hangs heavy over SVIIB. Meldal-Johnsen has also been a touring member of Nine Inch Nails and some of the grooves and explosive choruses on the album recall early NIN, particularly on 'Music Takes Me'.
If the ‘80s revival music of La Roux and Chvrches doesn't excite you then this is unlikely to convert you but SVIIB is worth hearing for ‘Ablaze’ alone, even if the rest of the album fails to live up to that initial promise. But after all, isn't that what pop music is all about; that one great song?