After a somewhat mysterious introduction to the sound of New York trio School of Seven Bells through their song ‘Chain’ on Ghostly Swim, a compilation put together between Ghostly Records and the Adult Swim cartoon network, anyone would have expected their debut Alpinisms to sound as sweet and pop-like as its precursor does. Instead, Alpinisms is decidedly fierce and authoritative – in a good way.
It was the clamouring of delicate synth lines and ethereal vocals from the sisters Alejandra and Claudia Deheza which sparked my initial interest in the group, with third member Benjamin Curtis providing the indie-cred as ex-guitarist from Secret Machines. While ‘Chain’ might be the prettiest moment, it’s certainly not the best – that’s instead left to the chaotic harmonies that cluster around the arrhythmic drum beat of ‘Iamundernodisguise’ and the peripatetic rhythm of ‘Face to Face on High Places’.
This collection has an intensity that belies School of Seven Bells’ relatively small membership, encompassing a multitude of voices, ideas and most importantly, these rhythms. Shifting, unpredictable clatterings of percussion and beats continue to provoke the ears into repeated listens, and even during the midsection of the album when the songwriting does fall a little flat, it’s that rhythm that sticks in your mind again and again. Partly, it’s to do with the production that pulls it out of the lower registers and firmly ensconces it as a vital part of each composition, but the other part is the sound that swirls around it. There is more than a hint of Loveless-era My Bloody Valentine reverb yet it doesn’t seem to be an influence the group is denying. Though it may wash over you as a whole, the subversive undercurrents on Alpinisms will continue to play out with a ferocity that – as odd as it sounds – makes the sugar-coated vocal delivery all the more intriguing.