Friday, November 14, 2008

School of Seven Bells - Alpinisms

School of Seven Bells
Alpinisms (Ghostly International, 2008)
Grade: B

Download: School of Seven Bells - "Connjur"
Download: School of Seven Bells - "Chain"

Just to get this out of the way: Alpinism, in its singular form, is another name for climbing up mountains (which at least explains the album cover). Alpinisms, the debut record from School of Seven Bells, a trio featuring former members of The Secret Machines and On! Air! Library!, certainly feels as if its trying to scale newfound creative heights by incorporating many ideas into their music.

By incorporating elements of world music, synth-pop from late-80s era of new wave (the guitar tones on “Connjur” directly emulate Depeche Mode’s work circa Violator), and psychedelic sound-shifting, School of Seven Bells create a diverse mélange for the listener to explore. Opening track “Iamunderdisguise” suggests Enya discovering dub reggae, but with much, much more listenable results, and “Wired for Light” incorporates Middle Eastern motifs. Most of the tracks on Alpinisms are backed up by steady electronic hi-hat drums, much like the ones heard on My Bloody Valentine’s classic “Soon”.

Paradoxically, Alpinisms’s main flaw is that these elements tend to blur together over the course of an entire record. Not helping matters is when the dual female harmonized vocals veer toward the melodramatic, especially on tracks where Kate Bush’s ethereal singing style serves as a one-way ticket toward weepy willow territory, as on “White Elephant Coat”.

But Alpinisms is at its best when School of Seven Bells write straightahead pop songs with ambient twists, as on album highlights like “Face To Face on High Places”, the dreamy “Half Asleep” and soothing album closer “Canal”. Before returning to the world-music motifs that were present earlier in the album, the record takes an epic turn toward Krautrock with an 11-minute epic “Sempiternul/Amaranth”.

The song itself encompasses what’s both wrong and right with Alpinisms as a whole. At the track's beginning, the witchy vocals tend toward the grating. Once the group settles into a motorik groove, then it gets really interesting, as the trio finds new and exciting ways to explore sound and texture. By being experimental within some degree of convention, School of Seven Bells create compelling dream-pop music. It’s unfortunate that their dabbling with other forms doesn't succeed as well as it perhaps should, but hopefully future releases will retain that sense of adventurism while maintaining a greater compositional success rate.

School of Seven Bells MySpace Page

Cross-published on CIMI

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