I come to School of Seven Bells (or SVIIB, as they like to be abbreviated) as a fan of Benjamin Curtis, formerly of Secret Machines, a band that went downhill after his departure. I'm less familiar with the work of sisters Alejandra and Claudia Deheza, who make up the other two-thirds of the band (they're formerly of On!Air!Library!, a band I've not heard). Perhaps that's why I'm somewhat disappointed in Disconnect from Desire: Curtis's presence—or what I expect Curtis's presence to entail—feels suppressed.
Curtis is a interesting and multi-faceted guitarist, as able to chomp down into muscular riffing as he is to rile up walls of texture and atmosphere. The best songs by his old band stretched into an epic, repetitive, monstrous combination of modern-meets-kraut rock.I don't expect his new trio to be an outgrowth of his old trio—it clearly isn't—but I do hope to see his abilities given the spotlight here and there.
Rather, the songs of Disconnect from Desire choose to emphasize the twin vocals of the Deheza sisters. Their voices are clean, smooth, and pretty; they are often emotionless yet not robotic or abstract as, say, acts like Ms. John Soda or Stereolab can be (two bands who share sonic similarities with SVIIB). Underneath them Curtis wields his guitar and manipulates electronics while the rhythms are supplied via drum machine. The music has a spacious is upbeat pulse, more New Order than Neu!. Buried in there somewhere are some interesting atmospherics recalling My Bloody Valentine or Philip Glass, but they’re pushed far down in the mix. What should be in your face is instead treated like a mere nuance.
It's the production that ultimately neuters the album for me. The band's ingredients have the potential to add up to something really great—the twin vocals, the electro rhythms, the atmospheric guitar playing—but the guitars aren’t atmospheric enough; the repetition isn’t pronounced; all the texture is suppressed in favor of the vocal melodies, which start to blend into each other by album's end. The vocals are high up in the mix on every song like a calling card—as if that’s the only great thing SVIIB has going for them. Everything else is pushed back in the mix. The result is a sleek sound that’ll probably find play on commercials or prime-time teen dramas, but as a work unto itself Disconnect from Desire never quite lifts off.
- School of Seven Bells: Babelonia