The last couple of years have seen a resurgence of both the shoegaze and electropop scenes, and nowhere was this more apparent than on 'Alpinisms', 2008's debut album from School Of Seven Bells. Formed from various alumni of other acts with impeccable indie cool credentials (Secret Machines, Tripping Daisy, On!Air!Library!), it was an impressive release that managed to blend the two freshly resurrected genres in a satisfyingly dreamlike manner.
Sophomore release ‘Disconnect From Desire’ is free from the typical awkwardness that can define an attempt to capture the magic of a well-executed debut – indeed, it reeks of refinement and progression towards a more electronic-focused pop sensibility. However, this is a double-edged sword since part of the lazy charm of the original was the blurry and expansive atmosphere it swam in.
There is certainly plenty of the old sound on display, but the album shines when it concentrates on electronica-tinged wistfulness with laserlike precision. Tracks like "Heart Is Strange" and "Dust Devil" are well-crafted and reminiscent of New Order at their finest, albeit with the dual female vocals adding an airy twist and dive. These are often perfectly harmonised, perhaps partly due to vocalists Alejandra and Claudia Deheza being twin sisters. The use of synths for both melodies and basslines have an 80's sensibility and sound with a fully 21st century production, which manages to more or less eliminate the factor of my hatred for all things retro. Reaching into the past is just fine, as long as it gets updated along the way.
It is all too easy to make assumptions over why School Of Seven Bells have chosen to veer slightly away from their cleaned-up dreampop past, and while it's certainly true that ‘Disconnect From Desire’ will likely bring them closer to commercial success there is still enough iconoclasm throughout the course of the album to sate the untamed hipster crowds. Having said that, tracks like "Bye Bye Bye" that give themselves over to soaring choruses and sunshine-filled melodies are actually the standouts. The middle of the album suffers from filler syndrome a little bit, though there aren't any resounding turkeys.
Overall, a worthy release but not as essential or atmospheric as their previous work. It is apparent that their transition into a more digital beast is more or less complete, and I am intrigued to see what comes from that evolution once the birthing pains are over and done with.