REVIEW: School Of Seven Bells – Ghostory

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Artist: School of Seven Bells
Album: Ghostory
Genre: Pop/Synth pop
Label: Ghostly International/Vagrant (US); Full Time Hobby (UK)

I freely admit that this is the kind of album I usually deride. It’s drifting, aimless, and so hipster it hurts, but when I’m not chastising myself for bopping idly in my seat, I’m wondering in awe at how gorgeous it is. In much the same way as Florence and the Machine’s magical Ceremonials, this is a floating, dreamlike gem, filled with wispy, lush songs and a consistently bewitching atmosphere. Everything is nebulous and ethereal, replete with graceful vocals and shapeshifting synth, creating a profound and engrossing musical world that sweeps the listener away involuntarily.

Naturally, it should be noted that music like this rarely sounds anything other than impossibly pretty. When you use so many ethereal layers and instruments, the music will always have a thick veneer of glassy beauty concealing whatever it actually says. But this is not to imply that School of Seven Bells – whose mythical name befits their music – don’t have considerable talent. The album is ensconced in an atmosphere so intense and presence so enticing that their artistry is obvious. The tracks have a very benign, abstract lyrical character but this is dressed up in so many lilting layers of synth that they become consummate escapist pieces, leaving ghostly echoes in their wake.

“The Night” is a kooky and imaginative introduction to the band’s vivid world. It’s ambient and romanticised, but the percussion gives it a clear sense of direction and stirring rhythm to complement the gushing vocals. It leaves the listener with a sense of suspended, twisted fascination that enthrals throughout. “Love Play” is more temperate and unguarded, with less emphasis on the delirium of feeling. It seems realer, more vulnerable and earthy, with glimpses of uncertainty adding an endearingly human perspective to the evocative sound. “Lafaye” is cooler. As evidenced by the visceral, dark music video that premiered earlier this week, there’s something more cautious and urgent about this track. The throbbing synth notes showcase something seedier and sinister and this adds some texture to an album hitherto informed by elegant romanticism.

“Low Times” maintains this newfound acerbic edge, building up exquisite rhythm and weaving a shadowy momentum that peaks sporadically to irresistible effect. The album seems suddenly powered by a gravity of focus, intensifying further in the atmospheric and lingering reach of “Reappear.” The suspended rhythm is ghostly and striking, forcing a contemplative look inward and reaffirming the album’s intent hold over the listener as its sound continues to evolve. “Show Me Love” is slow-burning but unveils its charms eventually. It’s incendiary despite the wavering instruments, using its dulcet vocals and sensuous threads to absorb and enthral.

Indeed, such is the entrancing nature of these three tracks, it’s almost a surprise to hear percussion in “Scavenger.” The reappearance of some firmer drum work gives shape and form back to the album, while the lyrics and vocals feel more grounded and rooted in reality. Their laboured musings reflect something stark and everyday as opposed to lofty, a development that necessarily sacrifices some of the album’s earlier magic but which prevents it from meandering into nothingness. “White Wind” is stylistically quite vintage, its charged vocals and guitars reminiscent of the 80s. It becomes more modern as it evolves however and develops a menacing air, taking on the form of something contemporary and corrosive. Its wary confidence is in turn cast aside for the eight-minute finale “When You Sing.” This song is actually too lengthy for my tastes, the silken music losing much of its appeal over the running time. It is suitably hypnotic but doesn’t have enough to maintain interest, and as a result the album whimpers to an uninspired conclusion.

This is a rather minor price to pay however, considering the overall quality of the record. It certainly doesn’t undo the exquisite beauty that has gone before and, on further reflection, actually provides a neatly abstract and inconclusive denouement. Ghostory is a strikingly beautiful album, one that creates a vivid and compelling world and fills it with drifting, transient life. It’s an experience as opposed to a listen, requiring the utmost attention and regard but providing the most intoxicating of rewards.

SCORE: 9/10
Review written by Grace Duffy

James Shotwell

James Shotwell is the founder of Under The Gun Review. He loves writing about music and movies almost as much as he loves his two fat cats. He's also the co-founder of Antique Records and the Marketing Coordinator for Haulix. You should probably follow him on Twitter.

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