Review Summary: The Stepford wives of shoegaze.
School of Seven Bells are kind of like that girl(s) at your high school who prided herself on her looks and demeanor above everything else, becoming such a monument to beauty and unrequited love that she was more an object to be discussed rather than interacted with. It never helped that more often than not these were the same girls whose looks were matched only by their prudishness and arrogance, and it’s these unfortunate characteristics that Benjamin Curtis (formerly of Secret Machines) and identical twin vocalists Alejandra and Claudia Deheza have adopted with their sophomore effort. Everything about Disconnect from Desire
is painstakingly pristine, from its layered production to the Deheza’s dreamy vocals to even the title itself, which seems to reinforce the idea that, while this is undoubtedly beautiful music, it’s a beauty that nonetheless exists in a vacuum. The melodies are there, intricate stratums of shimmering harmonies and lilting lyrics that complement each other nicely; any sort of emotional feeling, however, is strangely absent.
was the sort of debut that treated the tired shoegaze genre with the eye of someone who normally spent his time writing space-rock epics – accordingly, it was a refreshing affair, one that combined odd tribal rhythms and theatrical choruses into something exciting. That novel sound has been completely stamped out here, Curtis instead seemingly content to pump up the synths like a bad M83 imitation and crank the vocoders and drum machines to the max. It makes what was probably intended to sound more like Kate Bush instead turn out like an ‘80s novelty group that grew up listening to only Stereolab records. At first, things are appropriately shoegaze-y and, like those girls at first look, unerringly gorgeous. “Windstorm” is the obvious highlight, really one of the few songs that surges ahead rather than relishing in its own glow. It’s also the only song under four minutes, a fact that only contributes to the feeling that one really
feels the time start to pass as the record flows on, more than happy to stroll leisurely at its own pace thank you very much.
This album is lush; this album is impeccably produced; this album has two very potent female singers who know how to embellish each other. But something is missing in these hallowed halls of dream pop, where a crisp, hypnotic sound is more desirable than actual feeling. The constant stacking of effects, the intertwining of synths and melodies and vocals, combines for a wall of sound that is annoying on some songs and practically impenetrable on others. Alejandra and Claudia sound absolutely lovely on a song like “ILU” or “Dial,” but the problem is understanding what exactly they’re getting at under all those vocoder layers. As the record goes on and nothing seems to change, beside the odd jungle rhythm here (“Dust Devil”) or chintzy keyboard effect there (“Camarilla”), things blur and melt together, creating a morass of shoegaze that is as boring as it is interminable. Rarely is a song title as unfortunately accurate as Disconnect from Desire’s
closer, “The Wait” – by the end of its nearly seven minutes of slow buildup, barely-there brush strokes and stately vocals, one could be forgiven for thinking the wait would never end. It’s a little sad, actually, as the amount of work that has clearly gone into the production of this album is impressive, but it’s like Curtis and the Deheza sisters would rather build a magnificent mansion with absolutely nothing inside it. All the window dressing in the world can’t hide what Disconnect from Desire
is at its heart – icy, shallow and hopelessly empty.