benjamin curtis

Open Your Eyes
School of Seven Bells
Open Your Eyes

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.  

Album Review: Various Artists - Resistance Radio: The Man in the High Castle Album

The concept is risky.

Put a bunch of indie-rock artists in the studio, toss in an outlier in the form of Norah Jones, seat Danger Mouse and Sam Cohen in the producers’ chairs and re-record a bunch of pre-rock standards from the early 1960s.

But the result - Resistance Radio: The Man in the High Castle Album - is utterly successful, as Mouse and Cohen wrap the songs in authentic-sounding production and instrumentation awash in strings, choruses of background vocalists and a vintage, lo-fi sound - which works particularly well on a couple of blues-soaked tracks - coaxed from old-school equipment and a vinyl pressing that makes the new album sound positively retro.

In fact, listeners who weren’t privy to the track list would be hard-pressed to figure out Resistance Radio was recorded and released in the second decade of the 21st century.

Inspired by the Amazon Studios show “The Man in the High Castle,” this album - even when streamed - sounds like a record. But Karen O doesn’t sound like Karen O when she sings “Living in a Trance.” Beck doesn’t sound like Beck when he sings “Can’t Help Falling in Love.” And Jones doesn’t sound like Jones when she sings “Unchained Melody.”

And that’s the beauty of The Man in the High Castle Album.

Seventeen artists (Cohen sings both “Get Happy” and “The House of the Rising Sun”) artfully remaking 18 songs that are older than the performers themselves. And while they don’t necessarily sound like the artists who did the best-known renditions of these songs, Sharon Van Etten (“The End of the World”), Benjamin Booker (“Spoonful”), The Shins (“A Taste of Honey”), Grandaddy (“Love Hurts”) and Kevin Morby (“I Only Have Eyes for You”), are convincing in their attempts to make these old songs show their age and disguise the brand-new renditions as long-lost rarities.

Waterstrider, Andrew VanWyngarden, Angel Olsen, Kelis, Curtis Harding, Michael Kiwanuka, Big Search and Maybird also make appearances.

Irony drips from these performances. But they never sound anything less than earnest and sincere as performers and producers work together to recapture a bygone era and … dare we say it … make American music great again.

Grade card: Various Artists - Resistance Radio: The Man in the High Castle Album - A-


Paul Banks (Interpol) + Albert Hammond, Jr. (The Strokes) - August 22nd, The Bowery Terrace, NYC

As you may know, School of Seven Bells’ Benjamin Curtis was diagnosed with T-Cell Lymphoblastic Lymphoma earlier this year. The good news is, as mentioned above, they’ve found a bone marrow match. Many of his friends have come to his aid for a benefit show at The Bowery Terrace at the Bowery Hotel on August 22. Interpol’s Paul Banks and the Strokes’ Albert Hammond Jr. will perform live, and there will be DJ sets from DJ MomJeans (aka actor Danny Masterson), Alexa Chung, and Fabrizio Moretti with Devendra Banhart. Tickets come at three different levels: $40 general admission; $60 general admission + a vinyl copy of the SVIIB Put Your Sad Down EP (pressed specially for this benefit); and $100 that comes with vinyl and a limited-edition t-shirt.

During the event, there will be a silent auction with items donated by The Black Keys, The Strokes, Yeah Yeah Yeah’s, Regina Spektor, Vampire Weekend, The Hives, David Cross, Aziz Ansari, Adam Green, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Polyphonic Spree, Zachary Quinto, Saturday Night Live, The Late Show with David Letterman, Late Night with Jimmy Fallon and more. 100% of the money raised will go directly to Benjamin’s fund (which you can donate to directly).
Wonderful news from School of Seven Bells about Benjamin Curtis

To quote the link:

PUT YOUR SAD DOWN - A Benefit for Benjamin Curtis!!

So many amazing music friends have come together to put on this incredible benefit for Benjamin. All of the support for this will be going directly towards Benjamin’s ongoing treatment and recovery process for T-Cell lymphoblastic lymphoma. As you guys know, Benjamin has been going through numerous chemo and radiation treatments since January. I’m so happy to say that they have found a bone marrow match for him, and he will be going into the hospital to begin the the transplant process in mid August. Thank you beautiful friends for all of your awesome messages and support. We appreciate it more than we could ever express in one lifetime. I hope to see you on the 22nd. So much love and gratitude, Alley

Ben Curtis

I just wanted to take the time out and wish Ben a quick and painless recovery. I know he will be back up, healthy, and playing in no time =) We love you Ben! xx

Alley made this statement on facebook today:

Dear Friends,
It feels so surreal to be writing this to you. In fact I still can’t wrap my head or my heart around it, but here it goes. A few nights ago Benjamin was admitted to the hospital for symptoms that have been getting worse for a few weeks now. After a dozen tests and scans (which he’s endured like a champion) , the doctors say it’s T-cell Lymphoblastic Lymphoma. It developed pretty aggressively, and the chemotherapy to treat it will be pretty aggressive, but the good news is that it’s TREATABLE. These next few months will be tough, but he is the toughest person I know (even while here, he was trying to figure out a way to sample the MRI). I wanted to share this with you all, because you guys are such a huge and important part of our lives. Send all of the light and love that you can his way. Every bit will count towards a strong and fast recovery. I believe that with all of my heart. I will be doing the same. Love, Alley