My Bloody Valentine perfected the beautiful bludgeon on their 1991 masterpiece, Loveless, then, on that album’s graceful final track, “Soon”, pointed in a totally new direction. As universally revered as “Soon” has become, most shoegaze aficionados chose to ignore its suggestion that they go out and do their own thing. Sure, some good music has resulted from Loveless‘ legacy– and younger generations’ fascination with 4AD’s lush back catalogue. But more often than not, the faithful stuff sounds stubbornly nostalgic, even hopelessly dated. Dense melodic noise dominated School of Seven Bells’ debut LP, Alpinisms. But the album also toyed with world music rhythms and Eastern mysticism that, if nothing else, stamped it as a member of Brooklyn’s Class of 2008. It’s a good record, but Alpinisms can sound stylistically tentative and the musical partnership of twin sisters Claudia and Alejandra Deheza and Benjamin Curtis originally smacked of a one-off.
SVIIB have since toured extensively, and their road-tripping appears to have made them more focused songwriters and performers. In the last two years they’ve not only coalesced into a band, but a band with a distinctive signature. That the flirtatious earworm “Bye Bye Bye” on new album, Disconnect from Desire, near-quotes “Soon”‘s hiccupping breakbeat seems appropriate somehow. SVIIB still work with a handful of shoegaze motifs, which they now use to highlight certain emotional states (typically turmoil and ambivalence). But it’s the band’s assertive pop melodies that prevail on their sophomore album.
Desire‘s lead track and first single “Windstorm” signals the transition as its instrumental drone slides into the Dehezas’ crystalline vocals. Far from fuzzy and undefined, the song draws clean, three and a half minute pop parameters. “Joviann” and “Babelonia” achieve similar results with intros, outros, and choruses drenched in atmospheric distortion that dissipates to reveal melodic throughways. “Heart Is Strange”, a marvelous club banger with the zeal and vivacity of Ladytron’s “Destroy Everything You Touch”, marks yet another shift in aesthetic priorities. While the album’s drums are primarily machine-programmed, they sound massive– particularly on “Strange” and its neighbor “Dust Devil”. Evidence of Curtis’ tenure with the rhythm-obsessed Secret Machines wasn’t always easy to spot on Alpinisms, but it’s everywhere on Desire, which Curtis also produced.
Still, some people will probably call the record detached, and one of its most curious (but frankly awesome) analogues is Madonna’s chilly electropop album Ray of Light. I don’t want to force the comparison, but like Madonna, SVIIB assimilate niche, underground sounds and set them in a broader pop context. And the two albums’ sequencing, arrangements, and mystic preoccupations (that’s a sigil on Desire‘s cover; the title’s a Brian Enoism) all make a compelling case for kinship. Also, it’s fair to say that SVIIB are rocking a slicker, more commercial sound these days– at least in the studio. (The band still whips up a maelstrom on stage.) In a summer where chillwave sounds are omnipresent, Desire is an unexpected, but welcome, counterpoint. Where those newcomers privilege the nostalgic, indefinite, and noncommittal, the vets in SVIIB make a confident gesture towards the future.
— Amy Granzin, July 14, 2010