New Music Tuesday: Love and loss with School of Seven Bells

Benjamin Curtis and Alejandra Deheza of School of Seven Bells (or SVIIB, if you're feeling fancy)
Benjamin Curtis and Alejandra Deheza of School of Seven Bells. 

When I was putting together a playlist for Valentine’s day of break up songs and love songs, I asked for suggestions. My friend Laurie (hey, Laurie, hey) said, “literally anything by School of Seven Bells. If you read about them you’ll see why this works both ways in terms of happy and sad.” She was right. This new album may have been even more perfect for that playlist: co-founder Alejandra Deheza describes it as “a love letter from start to finish.” Their new album SVIIB drops on Friday.

So I’ll tell you right now that this edition of New Music Tuesday is significantly less light and fluffy than my others. The album is being released a few years after the passing of Benjamin Curtis, synthesizer player, guitarist, vocalist and songwriter of School of Seven Bells, who fell victim to T-cell lymphoblastic lymphoma, a rare form of cancer. This new album is a tribute to the intense relationship that Deheza and Curtis shared, and contains parts that Curtis recorded before he died.

The history of School of Seven Bells is one of love and loss, heartache and hope. Singer, songwriter and guitarist Deheza met Curtis in 2004, both members of other bands. Actually, Curtis met Deheza and her twin sister, Claudia, who were both members of On!Air!Library! at the time. The three decided to quit their previous musical endeavors, move into a shared Brooklyn home and create their own in-house recording studio. It sounds like a very Brooklyn sitcom, really. Claudia left the band in 2010, but the other two founding members kept on’ truckin’, as it were.

What started as a musical collaboration eventually evolved into a romantic one (so then it’s a very Brooklyn rom-com). They broke up as romantic partners shortly before Curtis was diagnosed, but they kept working on music together. (All right, so this is where we lose the “com” of any kind , really.)

So, when you listen to the new album, their history shines through ethereal vocals, dreamy indie-synth-pop melodies, and heart-wrenching lyrics. These lyrics from “On My Heart” would be really depressing if they weren’t so real: “And so when you call me on the phone/and you hear I’m not alone/no it doesn’t mean that things have gone wrong/there was a you before me/there was a me before you/that’s just the way it goes.”

That IS just the way it goes, especially these days, especially in Brooklyn. People get together, they work on art together, they fall in love, they fall out of love and still see each other at the bodega or at a Silent Barn show, and it’s fine.

The story of School Of Seven Bells, of their evolving relationship, needed to continue after Curtis’ death. When they met, Deheza felt like “I had known him forever. I couldn’t imagine not being with him,” he told the Guardian this week. That translated to their musical relationship, with the two working hand in hand on their soaring, dreamy music.

The liner notes of the album proclaim, “Here’s to our next 1,000 years. Love and gratitude forever.” The album is a tribute to their relationship in all its forms: musical, romantic, as best friends. It is haunting and catchy all at once.

The video below is a cover of Joey Ramone’s “I Got Knocked Down (But I’ll Get Up),” a song that Ramone actually wrote when he was dying of lymphoma himself. It was the last recording that the band made together before Curtis died.

Their music is at once uplifting and melancholy, and it’s the perfect blend for this, our own City of Dreams. One minute you can be walking hand in hand with your sweetie through the Botanic Gardens; the next you can be stepping on a literal rat near your Bushwick home (this is a true story. I stepped on a live rat one time. It was summer, so I was wearing sandals. It wasn’t great).

Please, please check out SVIIB when it comes out Friday. The spirit of Benjamin Curtis lives on in their sweet, sweet music. And though Alejandra Deheza is the only remaining member of the band, check out School of Seven Bells’ website for performances and new projects.

For significantly less heart-wrenching New York music news, follow Lilly on Twitter

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