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  School of Seven Bells  
  Vagrant, Ghostly International  
Release Date:


Reviewed by:
  Inspector Jason  

The winter of 1991, during my freshman year in college, was marked by rather disparate music choices, as I spent most of that school quarter listening to the Cocteau Twins album Heaven or Las Vegas or the Front 242 album Tyranny (For You). I suppose that, in retrospect, these divergent soundscapes formed the aural equivalent of a mixed drink, and my subconscious may have mirrored the effect due to my introduction to the world of alcoholic beverages during those months. A taste of the sugarcoated ethereal beauty of Cocteau Twins, followed by Front 242, who had all the subtlety of a sidewalk jackhammer, chased down once again with more Cocteau Twins, was somehow just what the doctor ordered as I stayed up late every night only to wake up at the crack of dawn for a daily Calculus II class.

I share this trip down memory lane with you not to conjure an autobiographical anecdote on how I became the college-educated intellectual mastermind that I am today, but rather as a wistful observation that my 1991 self probably would have loved Ghostory, the new album from School of Seven Bells. School of Seven Bells, now a duo in the aftermath of Claudia Dehaza's 2010 departure, veers on a slight path away from the band's electronic-laced dream pop to introduce an industrial-dance rhythm to the recipe. The lush shoegaze, reminiscent of Cocteau Twins and My Bloody Valentine, is still the main attraction, but the stoic abruptness of the percussion midway through the first verse of LaFaye and the outright electronic battering-ram effects of White Wind remind 40-somethings like me of the golden, but quickly outdated glory of those late 1980s/early 1990s days of Front 242, Nitzer Ebb, Front Line Assembly, and other such heavy-duty industrial acts.

My first impression of Ghostory was that it is, by far, the most refreshingly direct offering from School of Seven Bells to date. The band's first two albums, Alpinisms and Disconnect from Desire, were marvelous works that were somewhat marred by opposing directions, as though the band could not decide whether to push the envelope with edgy soundscapes in the vein of Kevin Shields or to settle into the Prius-driving aged hipster Starbucks background-music safety of Saint Etienne. The emphasis on the vocal harmonies of sisters Alejandra Dehaza and Claudia Dehaza was a beautiful asset to the music, but also a slight distraction that could create an overall effect of repetitive monotony over the course of a full-length record. Instead, the tracks on Ghostory come across as distinctive songs, instead of repeated exercises in harmonic dream effect. Remaining members Alejandra Dehaza and Ben Curtis have made an album of strong electronic guitar tracks that blend together, but also stand apart as potential singles.

Ghostory is a touted as a concept album about the ghosts revolving around the life of a young girl named LaFaye, but, as with most concept albums these days, the storyline does not strongly venture beyond one single song. In this case, LaFaye is that song, an eerie, yet aggressively danceable number that possesses the highest hit single potential on the album. Three adjacent tracks in the middle of the album, Show Me Love, Scavenger, and White Wind, showcase the varied assets of the band's latest incarnation. Show Me Love exudes the more introspective and harrowing sonic characteristics of My Bloody Valentine's Loveless by way of guitar fuzz and distant swirling keyboards. Scavenger kicks up the tempo to take the form of a more angular version of any given track from The Cure's Disintegration. White Wind hits the ground running as a nearly full-tilt industrial song. The fact that the album's beautiful closing number, When You Sing, is blatant homage to My Bloody Valentine's Soon, does not prove irritating, but, instead, registers respectfully as icing on the cake.

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