School Of Seven Bells

Disconnect From Desire

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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