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Top 11 of 2008 – Part 6 – School of Seven Bells “Alpinisms”

Top 11 of 2008, part 6. In this installment: bad metaphors and ineffectual descriptions!

Some time ago, my friend Jason invited me to dinner at Kashmir. I was not familiar with Indian food then, my only taste of it having come in the form of a very bland saag paneer. I’m always willing to try new food, though, and agreed to give it a shot. Needless to say for those that know the joys of that sub-continent’s cuisine, I was in for a treat. I hadn’t realized it, but it had been a very long time since I had tasted anything new. Sure, I had tried dishes I’d never had before, but they were ultimately built around familiar flavors. That night, the baingan bhartha brought me a whole new flavor experience, delicious in an exotic and wonderful way. It was a surprise. I didn’t know I was even missing something until I tasted what I had been missing.

So far, my top records of 2008 have been new twists on familiar sounds. Compared to my list for 2007, I’ve spent quite a bit more time reminiscing and drawing comparisons than describing the album’s sound, simply because the albums have leant themselves to the former. They are new, but they are generally built from familiar parts. There’s nothing wrong with that, but sometimes I want something different, even if I don’t know what “different” is until I hear it. This year, School of Seven Bells (SVIIB) has provided me my musical baingan bhartha in their album “Alpinisms” (click link to listen at Lala.com).  It is not as exotic as some of my picks from last year, as familiar elements bubble up to the surface from time to time, but the way the various ingredients blend and play off of one another creates a wholly unique musical experience.

Taking their most obvious cues from early 90s dream-pop, SVIIB layer their songs in gauzy electronics and ethereal melodies. Rhythms that move between the dance floor and the after party give the songs structure, and guitarist Ben Curtis, formerly of Secret Machines, adds body and brings elements that will be warmly welcomed by fans of his old band. Everything, though, is only there in support of the band’s main attraction, the voices of identical twins Alejandra and Claudia Deheza. With voices so similar, they are able to create incredible harmonies when singing in unison, and complex melodies punctuated with moments of dissonance when they part, alternating between dueling with and supporting one another.

Normally I don’t enjoy music that could be described as dreamlike or gossamer, but something in the way SVIIB fits all of their constituent pieces together causes the music to burrow its way into me. The melodies stay with me long after listening, and each new listen reveals new details as my ear searches past the vocals, difficult enough with how much attention those voices demand. This is the band’s first full length album, having been preceded only by a single and an EP. I very much look forward to what this band will give us in the future.

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