School of Seven Bells - Ghostory
Record Label: Ghostly International
Release Date: February 28th, 2012
Ghostory, the third release from School of Seven Bells, the former trio, now duo, of guitarist/producer Ben Curtis and vocalist Alejandra Deheza. Described on their press release as being influenced from “80's pop, shoegaze and ambient”, it undeniably has some shoegaze elements, but it often sounds much more in the vein of a fluffier Trent Reznor than it does My Bloody Valentine. While the album plays things a little safe when the music begs for audacity, it nonetheless is a catchy and enjoyable collection of indie-pop songs with a mixture of darker and nostalgic sounds.
Ghostory sounds its best when it adopts a less is more approach. The more a song sounded like it was being played by analog instruments and didn't rely on a bevy of electronic sounding elements, the more I tended to enjoy it. The opening track really stands out well in this respect. It is a perfect mixture of jangly 80's guitar work, bass, and atmospheric synths. The dark and broody series of songs “Low Times”, “Reappear”, and “Show Me Love” are the best continuous fifteen minutes of the album. The bass guitar, drums, and vocals make for a great trio in the dark dance punk-ish “Low Times”. And “Reappear” relies on only vocals over deep brooding synths to deliver a sad and haunting song. “Show Me Love” is a solid slow-burner that has a bit of an industrial Trent Reznor-lite vibe to it. In songs where they stray away from this formula, such as on the trance-influenced “Lafaye”, I didn't think it worked quite as well. The last song on the album is also very good, but it sounds suspiciously similar to "Soon" by My Bloody Valentine (not that it's necessarily a bad thing).
Alejandra Deheza adds such a crucial element to the mix with her breathy vocals (often obscured by a mild post-production haze). Her lyrics tell the story of a young girl named Lafaye who is haunted by a number of ghosts. The lyrics aren't discernible enough to form any sort of narrative from listening, but the singing tells a story through the emotional and haunting delivery, and her melodies and harmonies click perfectly with Ben Curtis's production. Some of the lyrics that do poke through fit the dark mood of the songs, such as her breathy cry of “Hey, you'll never find love” during "Show Me Love".
Overall, the album is well done, but I really think if Ghostory more fully embraced the shoegaze aspects of their sound, and made use of their more twisted atmospheric (more bluntly, the 'My Bloody Valentine'-esque) synths more liberally in their songs, they could have better tapped into the very cool things that were hinted at in some of their intros and songs. There was a general feeling that School of Seven Bells were playing it a little safer than they needed to, and I think the album could have used a little more danger and boldness in its production. School of Seven Bells shouldn't be afraid drift off into weirdness and develop a more distinct and striking aesthetic, because it would complement their already very solid song-writing. Either way, School of Seven Bells performs Ghostory with a sincerity that is rarely seen in the irony-wrought realm of throwback music, and for that they should be commended.