Music SkeletonPete Says

thisisnotanexit: SviiB Present Ghostory @ Mercury Lounge

School of Seven Bells marked the release of their newest album with two sold out shows at New York City’s Mercury Lounge on February 28 & March 1, 2012). The record titled Ghostory (Vagrant Records/Ghostly International) is the third outing for the band and solidifies a style they began formulating on 2010’s Disconnect From Desire. By forging their own quite recognizable sound – part dance pop, part ethereal – they take another step away from the shoe-gaze bands they’ve often been compared.

The group has juggled stage personnel around the core of songwriters Benjamin Curtis and Alejandra Deheza since the departure of Deheza’s twin sibling Claudia. In fact I’ve seen them six times with five different line-ups. While drummer Christopher Colley now seems a steady fixture, bassist Daniel is missing this time. The current configuration introduces keyboardist/vocalist Allie Alvarado. Her voice blends extremely well with Deheza’s and facilitates the live return of vocal interplay that is a hallmark of their recordings. It’s those responding and intertwining melodies that make School of Seven Bells’ songs like “Bye. Bye, Bye” so seductive. That tune in particular got a welcomed return to the set list.

Alvarado has her own project under the nom du musique Painted Face, performing a brighter shade of synth pop than SviiB typically presents. Ben noted that they shared the same bill in early touring days. Alvarado’s live harmonies bring back a flavor that was really missing in performance. In fact, if she could swing the extra duties, Painted Face would make this a grand slam double bill.

At the Mercury Lounge shows SviiB presented a well rounded representation of their entire catalog including “Half Asleep” and crowd pleaser “My Cabal” from their debut LP Alpinisms and Disconnect From Desire’s “Windstorm”. I attended both shows and was joined Thursday night by writer/singer Adriana Melendez a good friend who often contributes to this blog. Though she knew very little of the material in advance she thoroughly enjoyed the presentation and I think I’ve made another convert. Yay team!

Even in these earliest of airings the new material worked well on stage and even got tighter from one show to the other. “White Wind” and “Scavenger” are particularly good in the live setting. “Low Times”, which didn’t grab my attention on record, really reveals its power in performance as the band pumps an incessant beat under Ally’s chanting. “Love Play” has a deliciously fat synth foundation and a wonderful head nodding stoner groove. I’m hoping that by time they return to New York for a show at Le Poison Rouge in May SviiB will add my Ghostory favorite “When You Sing” to the set.

What’s Missing…
Mercury Lounge, and other L.E.S. venues, seem to be in “set and forget” mode when it comes to lighting these days. Positioned at either side of the stage both Ben and Allie Alvarado became poster children for the “mothers of the disappeared.” I know these are tiny rooms, I’m not expecting follow spots, but it’s hard to believe that some automated MIDI routine can’t fix this oversight.

SkeletonPete Says…
Be aware that iTunes adds the tracks “Unnature” and an extended mix of “Low Times” to the album tracks. The “Lafaye” single includes B-Side “Love From A Stone”. That makes a pretty great playlist of new material to explore.

I’d also suggest you find Ben and Alejandra’s reworking of A Place To Bury Strangers’ “So Far Away” which recasts the tune in a cool Ultravox/John Foxx style groove. I’m hosting that tune as my favorite of the week at the SkeletonPete This Is My Jam Page. You can sample it for the next three days, after that you’re on your own.

Lots of photos from School of Seven Bells’ August 2011 Cameo Gallery gig can be found here.

Music Photography SkeletonPete Says

Bridges -burn -build: SViiB @ Cameo Gallery 8/26/11

Addendum 9.6.11: Added Setlist to Image Gallery.

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.

Ghost Echoes
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.

Consider Transitions
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.

SkeletonPete Says
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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