Concert review: School of Seven Bells (with Stagnant Pools) light up the Luminary with eerie, ethereal soundscapes, Tuesday, August 28
Siblings: we love them, we hate them, but it turns out they make pretty great bands. Stagnant Pools, a brotherly duo fresh out of a van from Bloomington, Ind. kicked things off in the Luminary Center for the Arts‘ wide, dark basement gallery on Tuesday evening. The boys are signed to Polyvinyl and already generating a decent amount of buzz (from the likes of Paste and, yes, Pitchfork) for their drone-heavy noise pop. Lots of noise, in fact, from just one guitar and a drum machine. They have obviously listened to a lot of Joy Division, and I think we’ll be hearing much more of them during the months to come.
I was curious to see how School of Seven Bells would sound with only one Deheza sister (Claudia, vocalist and synth player, left the band before 2012′s “GHOSTORY” was recorded). But I didn’t have to wonder, because someone who looks very much like Claudia — and thus very much like her twin Alley, the lead vocalist — took the stage a little after 9 p.m. on a muggy Tuesday night, along with Benjamin Curtis (formerly of Secret Machines, and one-half the creative force behind SVIIB).
A group of willowy, unassuming Brooklynites, each dressed to some degree in tight black apparel, SVIIB kept it classy — no between-song banter other than a few sincere “thank you”s. But these Bells left my ears ringing. Opening with “Windstorm,” from their critically acclaimed 2010 release Disconnect from Desire, a few dozen attendees shrugged off their shyness, inching toward the light of the stage to “swing their weight around.” Live, the band sounds louder, harder, and — for lack of a better description — much more layered, deeper and complex than recordings allow. A young band, their catalog isn’t extensive, but plenty of old and new material wound seamlessly the speakers: “Iamundernodisguise,” a sparse, synth-heavy, spooky little number from their first record, “Alpinisms,” against “Low Times” and “The Night” off their latest. “GHOSTORY,” released a few months ago, is a concept album told through the eyes of a girl named Lafaye who falls into and out of ambient, weird love — not unlike the type of love you’d imagine Alley or Benjamin have experienced.
Of course, that is pure conjecture on my part, an attempt to reconcile the enigmatic duo’s art with their lives. Perhaps it’s because School of Seven Bells has a knack for slyly cloaking dusky, almost malevolent lyrics — “Is this the way you thought it would be/ Do you feel the same, without me darling? You have my arms/ You have my legs…. Devour me, devour me” (from “The Night”) — in torrents of shimmering, luminescent dream-pop and Alley Deheza’s liquid contralto. It’s a shade too heavy for shoegaze, but mysteriously vague, gentler than the pummeling electronic drumbeats of contemporaries like Phantogram and M83 (with whom SVIIB has toured). Behind the musicians, simple stage decorations: two giant Venn diagram-shaped set pieces, bedazzled with lights that pulsed, twinkled, or raced through all colors of the rainbow in time with staccato drums or Claudia’s cloudy synthesizer. “We recorded some new material a few weeks ago, and we didn’t know what to do with it, so, um, it’s for sale at the merch table,” announced Benjamin by way of cautious self-promotion.
And then, in an unexpected burst of bravado, “But it’s pretty fucking good, so you should probably buy it.” Agreed.