The release of SVIIB by School Of Seven Bells is an incredibly bittersweet experience. After the heartbreaking death of Benjamin Curtis in 2013 (he was diagnosed with lymphoma the previous year), this will be the last new release under their name. SVIIB contains music Curtis and Alejandra Deheza worked on before he fell ill and that was completed by Deheza after he died. It’s hard not to have this in mind when approaching these songs. Amazingly, this is their most uplifting record.
SVIIB has similar shoegaze stylings as their previous albums and some songs that are poppier than ever, such as last year’s single, ‘Open Your Eyes’. It would be understandable for ‘Open Your Eyes’ (or any of the songs here), to be dark affairs, but it’s life-affirming and full of hope. Deheza repeats the lines, “you’ll fall in love again,” as the song cascades into a gorgeous wash of dreamy, echoed vocals and soothing synths. It continues the synth-pop direction they’ve taken over their last couple of records and is far away from the hazy textured experiments of 2008’s excellent Alpinisms.
‘Ablaze’ is in line with previous ’80s-inspired singles such as, ‘The Night’ and ‘Lafaye’ from 2012’s Ghostory, but sounds even more refined. The defiant rush of the chorus is exquisite as Deheza sings about the effect of meeting Curtis, “when I was dark you found a glowing ember/And sent my world into a blaze again.” The New Order-inspired, ‘A Thousand Times More’ has a chorus that explodes into life. Despite having the most poignant lyric on the record, “if I could go through this pain for you I would,” the layered keyboards create a feeling of overwhelming positivity.
The sparkling pop of, ‘On My Heart’ is a highlight – Deheza reflects on their love and sings, “with me your love’s safe”. The details that fill these lush songs make the intimate nature of their lyrics sound even more powerful. ‘Confusion’ is the most delicate and sad song here. It has an atmosphere that suggests Julee Cruise blended with peak Cocteau Twins. It rivals 2010’s, ‘I L U’ as the most emotional and best song they’ve made. It works beautifully as a build up to ‘This Is Our Time’, which is a bright closing track that encapsulates everything that made School of Seven Bells so special. Deheza sings, “our time is indestructible”, which is a touching line.
SVIIB tells the story of the love and connection between Curtis and Deheza, from being in a romantic relationship to best friends who formed this inspired musical partnership. It’s remarkable how positive SVIIB sounds considering the situation in which it was completed. It’s a perfect example of just how powerful music can be – whether it breaks your heart, comforts you or makes you appreciate the happiness you find. SVIIB does all of those things. It’s a stunning record that is a fitting tribute, not just to Benjamin’s life but to a beautiful friendship. They will be missed.