To say that SVIIB, the highly anticipated and ultimately final album from New York City dream-pop masters School of Seven Bells, comes bearing a heavy weight seems like an understatement. Initially forming as a trio between twin sisters Alejandra and Claudia Deheza and Ben Curtis, the band experienced it’s first loss following the release of their second album, Disconnect From Desire, when Claudia left for undisclosed, personal reasons. That never dampened the spirits of Alejandra and Curtis however, whose relationship continued to grow far deeper than simply romantic or platonic. The two shared a creative spark that has ultimately transcended beyond this world – Curtis passed away from T-cell Lymphoblastic Lymphoma in 2013 at the age of 35, less than one year after receiving the diagnosis.
Offerings of comfort and reminders of Curtis’ talent were left behind for SVIIB as a majority of his final months were spent contributing and co-producing with Justin Meldal-Johnsen, a longtime member of Beck’s band who has also worked with M83 and Tegan and Sara. The album itself was written by Alejandra and Curtis in 2012, during what Alejandra describes as “…one of the most creative and inspired summers of our lives.” Following Curtis’ passing, Alejandra went on to write the lyrics that would tell the listener their emotional story of love, passion, friendship, and loss. The album kicks off with “Ablaze”, an incredibly euphoric track that stretches on for just over five minutes and helps set an overall tone of melancholic hope. Serving as the most triumphant toast to Curtis and their friendship, you feel as if you have been immersed by the love of a true pair of soulmates. Not every song invokes the same upbeat sensation or packs the same punch of percussion and synth as “Ablaze” or “On My Heart,” the album’s second song. “Open Your Eyes” makes for a particularly painful listen; with the repeated verse “Open your eyes, love, you’ve got me crying” adding an eerie level of resonance, knowing that personal touches of Curtis have been left on each of the album’s nine tracks.
While the middle of SVIIB drops in momentum and energy, it is rounded out by the love-infused eulogy that could very well be the group’s rawest work to date – an incredibly haunting five-minute song, appropriately dubbed “Confusion.” The exhaustion and painstaking grief that has encompassed Alejandra since the loss of her best friend and bandmate is evident, translating all too naturally through her ethereal vocals. “Confusion” contains what might be the most eloquently heartbreaking verse on the album: “We spent so long facing the days together that I forgot how to be different from us.” In this moment, it is impossible not to feel the sting of Alejandra’s sorrow.
The tragic weight that hangs heavily over SVIIB is not a forced display of closure, by any means. Instead it serves as a powerfully genuine testimony, commemorating the life and love of a very special person by the one who knew him best. Alejandra has crafted the truest memorial for Curtis, in the form of a work of art that listeners can find their own comfort in for years to come.
review by Ava Muir