Nine years ago, twin sisters Claudia and Alejandra Deheza joined up with Benjamin Curtis to form School of Seven Bells. Their first album, Alpinisms, consisted of sonic foundations similar to the Impressionistic period paintings portraying expansive vistas clawing towards the heavens. Utilizing a diverse pallet of digital hues to forge their emotional impressions within cavernous chambers of reverb.
Their 2012 follow-up, Ghostory, found the band as a duo, with Claudia departing the group to further develop their experimental inclinations. Drawing upon the ambiguity of their sound pallet, the pair managed to craft songs that appealed to the emotional state brought upon by the listener. Neither directly happy, nor sad, the nuanced production values encouraged the discovery of multi-faceted layers to each sound – simultaneously haunting, spiritual, and uplifting.
Two years ago, however, the duo encountered an unexpected tragedy when Benjamin passed away at 35 from the rare T-Cell Lymphoblastic Lymphoma – only a year after he announced he was starting the process for treatment. Stripped of her other half, Alejandra Deheza’s journey to move forward in a world without her best friend and artistic confidant was a grueling and purely human endeavor of the highest degree.
But also one that clearly led her to find solace and resolve through the music they created together in his last days.
It’s with this backstory in mind that the composition of School of Seven Bells’ latest release, “Open Your Eyes”, soars on an emotionally affecting tide. Visceral in the manner in which the words cut deeper than usual, turning throwaway lines like “So get it together/‘Cause now your anger is your pleasure” into a harrowing narrative where we find Alejandra can only make sense of the loss as if it’s the loss of a long-term relationship, because acknowledging the truth hurts beyond the parameters of what words can articulate.
Whether it’s within the assortment of radiant synthesizer patches and colors coupled with the steady percussive rhythms, Alejandra’s voice carries a sullen tone that unleashes a complicated string of lyrical stanzas that transform the melodic recitation into a metrically modulated slam poetry session. The subtext is carefully honed for maximum emotional impact, gut-wrenching in how the aspects of loss are explored and unveiled to be connected at a spiritual and physical level – grounded by the gravity of Alejandra’s vulnerability to share her hope and pain.
After all, songs often serve as a momentary view into a sliver of history captured through sound, manipulated by experience, memories, and emotional fullness. And in these moments when Alejandra reflects about “waiting patiently for too long”, it’s impossible to avoid the weight of regret and grief right alongside with her – especially when she sings with the heaviest of emotions, “Open your eyes, love. You got me crying.” If anything, this music is her way of letting us in so that she can find peace in letting go, providing Curtis’ memory and work the proper send off it deserves. Accomplished with a deep level of respect and reverence that opens 2016 in a manner few songs could ever aspire towards, and makes us all the better for it long after the volume fades.