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School Of Seven Bells: Blurring Life And Art

School of Seven Bells' debut album is titled <em>Alpinisms.</em>
School of Seven Bells' debut album is titled Alpinisms.

Last year, Benjamin Curtis and twin sisters Ally and Claudia Deheza left the bands they were in, moved in together, set up a home recording studio and launched an all-consuming music project they call School of Seven Bells. Ally Deheza says the arrangement blurs the lines between life and art.

"It's always a part of what you're doing," Deheza says. "One can't be working on something without the other one hearing it. So it's kind of like, you can be in the kitchen making a sandwich or something, and you hear Claudia in the room with her synth or something, doing something, and you have to respond."

Named after a mythical South American school for pickpockets, School of Seven Bells recently released its debut album, Alpinisms. The music and lyrics have a dreamy, droney, ethereal quality. In a song called "Wired for Light," Deheza writes about her interest in something called lucid dreaming.

"I can be in a dream and know that I'm dreaming," Deheza says, "so I'll know that I can pretty much make anything happen. I'll know that everything that's there is out of my head, so I can make somebody appear, or if I want to go somewhere else, I can do that, too. It's pretty much having control of what you see."

But Deheza doesn't agree that her lyrics are abstract or obscure.

"I don't think it's very abstract at all, which is very funny," she says. "I understand why people do think it's abstract, but I'm basically just communicating things exactly as they come to my head."

"And the sound is usually inspired by the words, rather than vice versa," Curtis adds. "We always do the vocals first in this band. That's a really big deal for us."

Ally and Claudia are identical twins, and their harmonies are incredibly precise. They're like two heads of the same beast. They sing all the songs on the album together, and their complex vocal interplay resides at the band's heart.

"To me, that's the most important part of School of Seven Bells," Curtis says. "Everything else is accompaniment, you know, in my opinion."

The song "Connjur," in particular, is reminiscent of another sibling vocal duo in a '70s prog-rock band, called Gentle Giant. The jagged vocal phrasing, the almost madrigal vocal style, and the somewhat self-conscious, sweeping, suggestive lyrics all fit the style of '70s progressive rock. But instead of pairing that vocal style with the musical bombast of that era, School of Seven Bells creates backing tracks that owe more to Cocteau Twins-style atmospherics and shoegazer drones.

The result is a warm and embracing swirling sonic miasma, with this center of crystalline harmonies as its anchor. Not all the songs are equally effective, but there are enough good ones here to make the record worth checking out.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Christian Bordal
Christian Bordal is a Norwegian-American (via Australia) musician, radio producer, and freelance music journalist who contributes regularly to Day to Day. He's very good at making faces and making a fool of himself, and he once impressed his NPR editors with a drunken recitation of the gibberish poem "Jabberwocky." He briefly considered launching a career performing at children's parties, but he finds his own children to be trouble enough. In addition to this list of remarkable professional accomplishments, he is a producer at member station KCRW in Los Angeles.