My first trip to Cameo Gallery was a nice opportunity to catch one of my favorite groups, School of Seven Bells, headlining a small club and debuting some new material. I know I’m a bit behind the curve on this venue but the wealth of musical offerings at The Bell House, Southpaw, Union Hall have glued me to my own locale (Sunset Park, Bklyn) over the last several months. Cameo is a kind of hidden space entered through The Loving Cup Cafe on North 6th in Brooklyn’s Williamsburg. You sneak sideways down past the restrooms into a corridor that leads to the venue’s door giving a speakeasy effect to the whole experience. Once inside the area opens into a high ceilinged music & art space. It’s kind of like the much missed Under Acme – bar at one end, stage at the other – but taller. A wooly kinetic sculpture hangs over the stage. It resembles a long-haired yak pelt interpreted as a summer camp hook-rug project, then turned upside-down. It’s continuous shimmering movement is accentuated by colored stage lights and it makes an out of the ordinary background for band photos.
I was first drawn to SViiB based by their sonic similarity to some of my favorite shoe-gaze music from the 90’s. My Bloody Valentine, Lush and the 4AD milieu came to mind immediately when I first encountered them and that was just fine with me. A band that names an album after a Brian Eno Oblique Strategies instruction or references Rene Daumal’s “Mount Analogue”, a double sucker punch on my checklist. Since then I’ve have come to appreciate the style they’ve created beyond its influences. It’s dreamy-pop with beautifully harmonized vocals from twin sisters Alejandra and Claudia over driving dance rhythms and sublimely distorted guitars by Benjamin. They’ve managed to find a compelling ground between the heart pounding and the hypnotic with words that often break across melodies and meters in unexpected ways. I’ve pretty much had the “Disconnect From Desire” album (and much of their earlier work) on endless loop since its July 2010 release and have completely worn out all my friends by proselytizing.
School of Seven Bells’ gig at Brooklyn Bowl last fall was a real treat. Killer show from end to end. Zach “Shigeto” Saginaw was on drums and also opened the night with an excellent set of his own material. The equally enjoyable Active Child was direct support. Their newest album, just released this week , is another must hear. Shortly after, I caught SViiB’s spot on The Jimmy Kimmel Show. Why didn’t the camera ever move over to Claudia’s side of the stage? Hmm. I was dismayed to learn that Claudia had left the group. Would this be a fatal blow for a band I love so much? Familial vocalizing is hard to beat; a thing of power and beauty and a key element of this band’s sound. Sibling voices mesh in a way that can’t be approached by mere musical acquaintances – think of the Everly Brothers, Staples Singers, The Beach Boys.
Seeing the band perform a couple of times after the transition it was clear that Ben and Ally were searching for the proper way to re-align the sound and feel on stage; attempting to present a trio’s material as a duo. Having dealt with the effects of band personnel changes myself more times then I care to innumerate I could commiserate, but dilemma is nothing if not cathartic. I’m happy to report that the Cameo show brought back the feelings that enamored me with SViiB in the first place. I wasn’t sure exactly how adding a bassist to the mix as a replacement for a singer/keyboard player would be the fix, but they figured it out. It’s different, but it works. It’s a band. Even on this first outing with the new line-up they seemed comfortable and self assured. The new material (Low Times, The Night) suggests a heavier sound on the next album and I’m excited to hear what they’ve cooked up this time around.
(Dead) Sea Salt
Only lament from me is that “Bye, Bye, Bye” was missing from the set. It’s a tune I’m particularly addicted to both melodically and lyrically. It plays with images from Orpheus & Eurydices and the Biblical tale of Lot’s wife and finds the singer wishing to turn an unfaithful lover into a “standing pile of stones” to “skip across the ocean”… “one by one” until nothing is left of them. Wow.
Give School of Seven Bells’ 2007 single “My Cabal” a spin or three. If you dig what you hear move straight to the “Disconnect From Desire” album. There’s a lot to recommend it from the chanted opening of “Windstorm” to the pulsing beats and background vocals of “Dust Devil”, and one of the simplest but bravest love songs in recent memory, “I L U”. Once obsessed, fill in the various remixes and explore the earlier “Alpinisms” album. Thank me later.
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