On “Ablaze,” the sprawling synth-pop anthem that ignites School of Seven Bells’ latest album, frontwoman Alejandra Deheza confesses about having her lust for life revived by the arrival of a special force. “When I was dark, you found a glowing ember,” she coos, “and sent my world into a blaze again!”
She’s likely singing about her ex-lover and creative partner Benjamin Curtis, who tragically passed away from lymphoma at 35 in 2013. But before his untimely death, the pair began work on one final album together, which Deheza finished with revered Grammy-winning bassist and producer Justin Meldal-Johnsen (Beck, Nine Inch Nails).
While the backstory is utterly sad, Curtis’ spirit is alive and well in these nine tracks. And nothing here suggests these are half-formed leftovers from forgotten studio sessions—in fact, these are some of the duo’s best songs. The propulsive “A Thousand Times More” mixes a thumping bass line and dazzling synth hook with a kinetic, electronic boom-bap suited for a club, while “Signals” is powered by distortion-soaked guitar squalls reminiscent of shoegaze icons like My Bloody Valentine.
Before forming School of Seven Bells, Curtis was a founding member of the early-aughts psychedelic-rock group Secret Machines and that group’s musical tastes typically veered towards the heavier end of the spectrum. But with Deheza, the two blended his rock tendencies with her impossibly beautiful vocals: breathy, reverb-soaked, multi-tracked to the heavens. And that balance sums up SVIIB: it’s a fully-realized vision of the dreamy shoegaze-pop they’d sought to prefect for years. How heartbreaking to know such a once-in-a-lifetime creative partnership has been silenced.