School of Seven Bells: Alpinisms

Luminaries from the early '00s New York City rock boom convene to create something unlike anything you have ever quite heard come out of the five boroughs.

School of Seven Bells


Label: Ghostly International
UK Release Date: 2008-11-03
US Release Date: 2008-10-28

Perhaps the wisest way to make yourself heard amongst the dearth of cultural lemmings that have descended upon New York City since the breakout of the Strokes is to sound absolutely nothing like anything going on in either Manhattan or Brooklyn at this very moment.

Upon his departure from his brother’s group The Secret Machines -- who left Austin, Texas for NYC and found themselves in the center of a hype-riddled tsunami of press coverage and major label dalliances as the token psych band of the city scene -- it would’ve been easy for Ben Curtis to just pick up and create a carbon copy of the Machines and their hazy Zepedelic swirl. Or perhaps even fall in line with the legions of new, young bands like Crystal Stilts and Vivian Girls, who are breathing new life into the Brooklyn landscape with a new sound hybrid stemming from a dualistic love affair with the Jesus and Mary Chain-style revisionism of Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound and old EMI acid rock.

But in contrast, Curtis took a wholly opposite approach. Sure, he linked up with a pair of fellow luminaries from the late-'90s/early-'00s NYC rock scene, twin vocalists Claudia and Alejandra Deheza of the terribly underrated experimental pop group On! Air! Library!. But the music they create as School of Seven Bells sounds absolutely nothing like anything that has represented the sound of New York City music, past or present. Seamlessly combining elements of lush dream-pop in the realms of Heaven Or Las Vegas-era Cocteau Twins and mid-period Medicine with gratuitous elements of the skittering, off-kilter rhythms of the group's friend and frequent collaborator Prefuse 73, SVIIB make good on the promise of their early seven-inches and EPs with this debut full-length for Ghostly International.

Alpinisms, upon first listen, sounds more European than Metropolitan, something you might listen to while cruising the Eurasian countryside in a Mini Cooper hatchback than trolling the streets of the Lower East Side in search of your old watering hole that somehow transformed itself into a designer clothing boutique. The Deheza sisters are clearly the stars of the show here, singing in tandem atop Curtis’s atmospheric soundscapes, their lyrics implementing positive elements of the Eastern mysticism and counterbalancing it with the stoicism of American disconnection, particularly on tracks like “Half Asleep” and “Prince of Peace”, exuding bursts of positivity in both sound and sentence structure.

There are times, however, where the music on Alpinisms tends to veer into the dreaded New Age category a little too closely for comfort, particularly during “Half Asleep” and “Chain”, two songs that certainly wouldn’t sound out of place pumping out of the PA system at the spa around the corner from your place that your girl visits for a shiatsu massage. But then there are times when the accidental New Ageyness of SVIIB’s sound creates happy accidents, like on the 11-plus-minute epic “Sempoternal/Amaranth”, which decompresses mid-song like Watermark-era Enya drowning in Pink Floyd’s “Careful With That Axe, Eugene”.

If different was what School of Seven Bells were going for, they have certainly achieved it in spades with Alpinisms. To wit, nothing that has come out of the New York City music scene, be it 1978 or 2008, has ever sounded quite like this. And for that feat alone, SVIIB should be hailed as complete and total innovators.


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