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School Of Seven Bells
Disconnect From Desire Tom Hawking , July 29th, 2010 12:55

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A friend once memorably dismissed School of Seven Bells as "The Corrs of nu-gaze". At the time it seemed more than a little harsh, but maybe he was onto something. There's always been a suspicion that this band were more about style than substance; the name that allegedly referenced a South American pickpocket academy, the gratuitous over-use of the word "enigmatic" in describing them, and yes, the fact all three members are unfeasibly good-looking.

Disconnect from Desire isn't going to settle any arguments on this front. The band's second album continues their obsession with mining the sounds of 4AD's late 80s and early 90s roster for inspiration, but where their debut Alpinisms also featured the heftier sound of Ride and Slowdive, this is pretty much all neo-dream pop. The influence of Liz Frazer and Robin Guthrie is writ large all over this album - but unfortunately, that's not as good a thing as it should be.

Disconnect from Desire does sound amazing, with Benjamin Curtis' production consistently top notch. Alpinisms was similarly impressive in that respect - it evoked the sounds of its influences flawlessly, and added just enough to lift it from the realms of simple pastiche - but its successor clearly kicks things up a notch. Co-vocalists Alejandra and Claudia Deheza's pristine vocals interweave and harmonise throughout, often augmented by washes of subtle reverb, and they're set over panoramic, multi-layered arrangements that sound like they should be soundtracking sweeping alpine vistas.

As such, it's hard to pinpoint why Alpinisms worked and this album doesn't. Or then again, maybe not: the fundamental problem with Disconnect from Desire is that for all its impressive aural stylings, it features some pretty bodgy songwriting. Strip away all the layers and lush production values, and what you're left with is a series of fairly drab and uninteresting songs.

The album does start well - single and first track 'Windstorm' sounds exactly like its title, while 'Heart Is Strange' basically Xeroxes Alpinisms' 'Half Asleep': same curious vocal phrasing, same ever-escalating melody line. From there, though, it's dramatically diminishing returns.

The band's press claims that they've drawn heavily on mysticism (specifically, "symbols, myths and mantras") to formulate the concepts behind this record, but there's precious little evidence of this in the lyrics. 'I L U', for instance, features the sort of cringeworthy sixth-form couplets that its txt msg title implies – "There are so many things I wish I knew how to say in a way that you'd understand/But I can't/So many times I've tried looking into your eyes for a sign that maybe you feel the same/But you don't".

Where weighty concepts do appear to surface, they're mired in pretension and mumbo-jumbo. It soon becomes perversely enjoyable to pick out examples: 'Camarilla' contains the lines "This vain imposition's a loaded decision/Hiding in its vision a treacherous sea." Or there's this from 'Bye Bye Bye': "After the great flood all washed away, I still stayed/Through the crashing waves you promised me that you would wake up/I was the white light in your sad desperate loneliness/Yeah". Then there's the opening lines of 'Dial': "I dreamt that my perspective was on a dial/Wired to spare me from this world".

Perhaps Disconnect from Desire is more appropriate a title than the band realise: there's a curious emotional void at the heart of this album that leaves it disconnected from pretty much everything but itself. Whereas Cocteau Twins - at their best, anyway - made music that was inscrutable but still somehow evocative, School of Seven Bells come across as mannered and distant. At this point, the empresses' closet is looking mighty bare.

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Dr Up
Jul 30, 2010 10:07am

Ach, lighten up. DfD is a wonderfully pretty record and the subtle electro pop undercurrent pushes it into territory uncharted on Alpinisms.

It's just lazy (and downright inaccurate) to claim it apes the Cocteau Twins too. I can see how you could make a claim for the band learning a thing or two from His Name is Alive, but it's sloppy work to use the Cocteaus as shorthand for anything vaguely ethereal.

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Jul 30, 2010 12:22pm

Normally it'd be lazy to namecheck the Cocteau Twins for anything vaguely ethereal, but in this case it's justified, seeing as how the band contains one cock, two twins.

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Jul 30, 2010 5:02pm

In reply to KJ:

Hahaha KJ touché. I generally try to avoid such comparisons - but it REALLY does sound like Cocteau Twins

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Jul 30, 2010 5:43pm

Bit of a harsh review...I don't think too many folks (me included) really analyse the lyrics of their songs but when I do, I find them pleasingly mind-boggling. Kinda like Secret Machines (on the first album anyway), it helps if you're stoned when listening.

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Aug 1, 2010 2:11am

Links to file streams...come on now.

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Aug 4, 2010 8:37am

Matthew Dear will fix it all.

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Aug 6, 2010 3:59am

Wow, seriously? Any remotely ethereal sounding female vocal and somewhat dreamy pop is the Cocteau Twins? Liz Fraser sounds nothing like them, and is in fact inimitable. I don't think this album is quite as bad as you make it out to be, though you may be on to something about the lyrics. They sort of "front" more than anything else, though I think the vocals and music are simply breathtaking. Camarilla happens to be my favorite song of the moment. I've been trying to find the complete lyrics...

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