Patch.com editor Nate Adams and I have this debate every so often: When the members of your favorite bands start new bands, do you love those bands as much because they’re legitimately good or because you’re too stupidly loyal? I would generally argue for the former (I play Jets to Brazil just as much as Jawbreaker; The Kills’ Midnight Boom is as good as Discount’s Half Fiction, albeit different) while Nate, ever the pessimist, would argue the latter, holding up as evidence every post-Bear vs. Shark band ever.
I mention this because I’m not sure if it’s even worth mentioning that School of Seven Bells guitarist Benjamin Curtis used to be in Secret Machines, an epically spacey rock band whom I adore. You can tell Curtis was in both groups because Bells also has a knack for ambient music, just in a completely different way. Secret Machines sound like a cross between Led Zeppelin and Autolux. On their new album Disconnect From Desire, School of Seven Bells sounds like Ladytron channeling My Bloody Valentine. Or maybe it’s the other way around.
My point is this: I bought the band’s debut, Alpinisms, specifically because Curtis was in Secret Machines. That was an act of residual devotion, and the album was pretty good too, chock full of haunting dance jams. But that record occasionally got too muddled. Before Desire came out, I liked Bells because of the Machines connection. But with this sophomore album, I finally view the band as a separate, supreme entity.
Plenty of Alpinism’s elements are still present. Twin sisters Alejandra and Claudia Deheza still deliver beautiful, ethereal harmonies. The music is still otherworldly yet danceable. It’s just that this time the beats are more at the forefront. Songs like “Heart is Strange” and “Dust Devil” have an ’80s pop bent reminiscent of 4AD’s back catalog. This makes the songs a lot more immediate, and should certainly satisfy fans waiting for another Witching Hour. If I can make another MBV reference, imagine if an album had 10 tracks just like “Soon.”
Fifty minutes of music might test some listeners’ patience – I feel like shoegaze’s heir apparent is lo-fi acts like Dum Dum Girls, who favor shorter song structures. But Desire flows seamlessly from track to track. The songs do occasionally blur together, but there are enough successes – the Loveless-channeling love song “I L U,” the dance epidemic that is “Heart is Strange,” the gentle comedown of “The Wait” – that make Disconnect From Desire the best School of Seven Bells album yet.