For some reason, it’s taken me eight years and countless listens to come to the simple realization that School of Seven Bells is a pop band — and I mean this in the very best sense of the term. School of Seven Bells create beautifully dreamy pop songs that have the ability to elevate emotions, whatever they may be.
Their latest and final effort, the self-titled SVIIB, is filled with the type of pop songs that I want to hear. In my mind, pop songs should make you want to dance half-naked in your room. They should sweep you out of your head, away from whatever is plaguing you at the moment, and lift you to your feet, reenergizing you to tackle whatever trials you’re currently facing. At their best, they should simply be transcendent. SVIIB is just that. The fact that the duo released their most pop-forward album in the aftermath of tragedy doesn’t seem to be a coincidence. This is the album that singer Alejandra Deheza and SVIIB fans needed, and likely what guitarist and multi-instrumentalist Benjamin Curtis needed as he faced terminal illness.
Curtis lost his battle with cancer in late 2013 at the age of 35, leaving myself and other fans utterly crushed. Now, it feels good to get this final album from the band — giving us something near closure. This release is, after all, something akin to a break-up album. The lyrics explore Curtis and Deheza’s previous romantic relationship, their relationship as a band and, in the end, as friends. The same sentiments they explore related to navigating a relationship also happen to fall hand-in-hand with the explorations of what it means to lose a loved one.
Opening track “Ablaze” comes soaring in like a dream, setting the stage for a staggeringly beautiful album, full of love and remorse, sadness and joy. The duo’s strengths are present throughout SVIIB — Deheza’s ethereal vocals are layered to a stunning effect, and Curtis’ guitar and electronic tones drive every track, propelling the album forward. A standout is the wistful closing track “This is Our Time”, a song that feels both deeply sad and utterly triumphant, as Deheza declares, “Our time is indestructible.” It’s the perfect soaring dream-pop anthem to close out the band’s career.
I feel as though I’ve had long history with Benjamin Curtis. Not as long as some (I was never lucky enough to see him play in Tripping Daisy), but his work has felt present throughout all of my young adult years. His previous band with his brother, The Secret Machines, opened at an Interpol show I saw in 2004, along with the oft-forgotten On!Air!Library!, an earlier band of Alejandra Deheza and her twin sister Claudia (who was also an early member of SVIIB). It’s safe to say that this tour is where Deheza and Curtis met, beginning a short but meaningful career together. I continued to follow School of Seven Bells from album to album, through numerous concerts and festival performances up through their last tour. One of my favorite things about seeing SVIIB live was to watch Benjamin Curtis play — he was such a beautifully expressive player. It’s not that his driving, reverb-heavy guitar was all that technical, but the emotion and commitment that he put into performing always deeply resonated with me, making every show feel like a unique experience. With their sound washing over me, I always felt renewed, transformed.
I’m thankful to have SVIIB as a parting gift instead. It is a perfect swan song and satisfying goodbye to a man who contributed so much beauty in such a short period of time.