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Albums of 2012 – 2. School of Seven Bells – ‘Ghostory’

There’s a beautiful mirroring in the way that Ghostory concerns itself with the past conceptually as well as sonically. If My Bloody Valentine were to have continued their sound post-Loveless through the nineties – and we’ll see if I’m correct once they release their long-awaited third album in the New Year – it wouldn’t sound too dissimilar to that of School of Seven Bells. With this, their third release, the Brooklyn band fully realise the dance flirtations that shoegaze has been hinting at for over twenty years, ever since the release of MBV’s magnum opus of a single Soon. For all their reverie though, School of Bells don’t simply ‘sound like’; more so than ever, their work only explores the past in order to push expectations.

With its unrelenting hi-hat beat, light-as-air guitars and chilling synth line, fast-paced opener The Night neatly demonstrates this exploration, finding common ground between dream-pop and the dancefloor. Low Times takes the metronomic drumming and thick basslines of a New Order 12” and sets it to an atmospheric backdrop, gradually building to an all-out electronic breakdown. Even during their more dramatic counterparts (White Wind, Scavenger), School of Seven Bells manage to navigate the tensions between two seemingly disparate styles with ease. This isn’t an unfamiliar concept to the band; on previous releases they gave shoegaze a wholly original Eastern-tinge, primarily due to the vocal harmonies of the Deheza sisters – mantra-like, ethereal, otherworldly. However, Ghostory marks the departure of Claudia Deheza and with it the absence of their trademark niche (arguably salvaged through the power of multi-tracking).

Their shared penchant for the transcendental remains though, and helps to form another important transgression. Although the record occupies a style that predicates itself on hazy vocals and unintelligible lyrics, Ghostory sidesteps such tired formulae, identifying as a concept album of sorts. Acting as a voyeur and guide, Alejandra Deheza weaves the tales of ‘a young girl named Lafaye and the ghosts that surround her life’. Focusing mainly on love and loss, these nine tracks certainly comprise an overall theme, but they never become co-dependent. Indeed, the record benefits from a framework defined enough to enhance the band’s character (separating them from a decidedly saturated market), but equally loose so as to avoid overbearing the listener.

The only wild card here is the nine minute closer When You Sing, such an unashamedly derivative take on the aforementioned MBV track Soon that you’ll either think it musical heresy or balls-out brilliance. School of Seven Bells aren’t stupid though; this is less of a throwback, rather a statement of intent. Indeed, here the aesthetic of Soon acts as a pivot from which to expand and reinvigorate one of music’s most pigeonholed genres in a way that belies the band’s peers. Ghostory uses its influences as a foil rather than a crutch; that’s not revivalism, that’s just plain smart.

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