The songs of School of Seven Bells inhabit a mysterious place, a void of transference where things gradually turn into other things. Horizon becomes sky, night becomes daylight, machine becomes human, dream turns to waking—and back again. There are elements you've heard before: dance beats, icy shoegaze guitar, gossamer female vocals... but listening to Alpinisms activates lobes throughout one's entire brain, triggering familiar and comforting memories even while sounding wholly new and unpredictable.
"I think it's the chemistry," explains Alejandra Deheza, "because we each have very different voices as far as songs go and how we play our instruments, but when they all come together they all fit so well. And that's what I think is so surprising, that there are these three very different elements, very different ways of writing that blend so well together and sound right."
Deheza is referring to her School of Seven Bells bandmates—her sister, Claudia, with whom Alejandra was a member of On! Air! Library!, and a former guitarist of the Secret Machines, Benjamin Curtis, who the Deheza sisters met in 2004 when both bands toured with Interpol.
"We just really liked what the other one was doing. I like the way he played guitar," says Alejandra. "I thought it was very creative; it wasn't as bluesy as a lot of the guitar that I was hearing. We started talking about mutual ideas and I said I wanted to start a band called School of Seven Bells in the future, and he said call me when you're ready."
School of Seven Bells took their name from a documentary Alejandra saw on PBS: "Supposedly these thieves or con artists were all trained in the '80s at this school in South America: The School of the Seven Bells, a pick-pocketing school that evolved into this crazy shoplifting modern school of thievery. And the final exam was seven pockets with seven items with seven bells on one person, and if you could take out each item without ringing the bells, you graduated."
The band started off by releasing a couple singles on various labels, including a collaboration with Prefuse 73 that featured an early version of Alpinisms' first track, "Iamundernodisguise." The full-length was released only last month, but the group already has new material. They've even started an alter-ego side project called Night of the Gifts, trying to write songs without using beats. "It's kind of this creative experiment we're doing right now. We're trying to find new ways of writing. A lot of it has to do with vocals and textures."
Meanwhile, Alpinisms hits spectacular heights with "Half Asleep," a shimmering, spine-tingling song with the sisters' vocals moving in tandem over synth washes, with a groaning guitar eventually drifting under the gorgeous backdrop like an orchestra. "Face to Face on High Places" has a similar mood of transcendence, a penetrating but reaffirming look into one's inner being, and coming out with both feelings of self-reliance and a newfound connection with the world.
"It can start with any one of the three of us having a small idea, a vocal line, or a synth or a beat or something like that," says Alejandra. "The others will hear it and react to it and it just builds from there. We're always involved in what the other is doing musically—it's the only way to come up with a School of Seven Bells song anyway, to have the three of us writing it."