Earlier this year, I had to go out of my comfort zone to talk about David Bowie’s Blackstar. It was my second album review and it came with the news that it was actually Bowie’s farewell to us. Reviewing the work of the deceased is always tricky, especially when that work ties into the artist’s actual passing. I am put into a similar with School of Seven Bells latest, and likely final, album.
For those unfamiliar, the band consisted of two members, Alejandra Deheza and Bejamin Curtis were a synth-heavy, indie rock group who had put out a solid collection of albums and EPs over a few years until 2012 when Curtis was diagnosed with lymphoma and later died from this in 2013. SVIIB serves as an album that had been worked on by the duo before Curtis received the diagnosis. So unlike Blackstar, this is not an album about showcasing dying through art but instead memorializing someone who has died. This feels even more person since Deheza, who initiated the albums completion, obviously had a strong connection to her bandmate whom she was romantically involved with for five years.
I will admit, however, I did not listen to this band before hearing about this album. I did not have a strong attachment to this band meaning I think I can properly review this record without any strong personal bias. That being said, I really liked SVIIB and immediately went back to listen to this group’s older material upon listening to this.
Alejandra Deheza gives off so much passion here, singing about the relationship she had with Curtis before they broke up. The lyrics portray a woman singing to her ex-lover that she is thankful for what they had and that she will stay around for him. Obviously with new, unexpected context added these lyrics are even deeper and seem quite profound.
The album opener “Ablaze” kicks things off well, with an incredibly uplifting sound that sets a great tone for the rest of the album. It tells the listen this is not supposed to be a sad album, this is supposed to be a celebration of a talented musician as he makes great music one last time. Lyrics about how Deheza’s heart was lit on fire by, presumably, Curtis is incredibly sweet and she delivers the emotion behind the words she is singing.
The following track “On My Heart” goes into a little more detail on the negatives that lead to their breakup but still seems sympathetic towards him. The line “There was you before me/There was a me before you” stand out as particularly powerful, again given the unintentional additional context.
“Open Your Eyes” might be my favorite track on the album, as Alejandra sings fast-paced verses before going into a chorus that has her comforting the man who’s heart she has just broken. It is an incredibly tender moment and the song nails the emotional complexity of the situation.
The album takes a turn for the more electronic on the tracks “Elias” and “Signals.” The latter of these working as a heavier song which does not stray away from the sound the album has laid out too dramatically. The song flows very well into “Music Takes Me,” another song the leans on electronic sounds, which thanks Curtis for the love he gave in their relationship.
If I had to pick a least favorite track on here it would probably be the song “Confusion” which is not to say the song is bad, the opposite is true, it just has not stuck with me nearly as much as the other tracks. The song still captures the feeling of being confused after losing someone you are close to, and is definitely more lyric centric with the production turned down.
Finally, the album closes with “This Is Our Time” which is another great indie rock song, like the first few tracks. Curtis’ work on this song is noteworthy for accompanying Deheza and serves as a great farewell to his talent. The song itself is very bittersweet, giving a sense of freedom that the two of them now have but still feels very much like a goodbye.
While I know much of what made this album great was unintentional but the emotion presented here is still powerful regardless. Even with all the synthetic sounds, this album is one of the most human I have heard all year. I recommend it highly to most people and I am sure fans of this group will love this and appreciate it as their final project. I am sad I could not have discovered this group before tragedy struck but I am grateful for being able to discover this because it truly is a special album.
Best Tracks: Ablaze, On My Heart, Open Your Heart, Signals, Take Your Time
Worst Track: Confusion (if I had to pick)