With the seemingly endless expansion of musical terms and genres in the postmodern world, I have acquired some favorites, not least of which is a genre called "Shoegaze" music.
As may be obvious from the name, the music involves heavy use of effects, produces a dreamlike yet philosophical state, uses washed-out yet catchy melodies, whispery or otherwise idiosyncratic reverberated vocals, and often electronic drums and synths; and though bands often wander into experimental territory, they generally don't stray too far from your tried and true indie rock/pop rock song structures.
"Shoegaze" was coined as a term in the early '90s to describe bands such as My Bloody Valentine, Ride, and Lush; but has been applied retro-actively to bands like The Cure, The Smiths, Bauhaus, and even Sonic Youth. As music and terminology evolves so quickly these days, new bands that still fit into this genre may now be referred to as "nu-gaze;" but I'm sorry, for me that merely calls more attention to how lame labels can make everything sound... and "Shoegaze" is just funny... so Shoegaze it is then.
It's an appropriate genre for School of the Seven Bells (aka SviiB) to highlight their talents, but what really makes SviiB one of the more interesting acts is, believe it or not, SINGING TWINS!
Why musically this matters is where this band gets really, really interesting. Ask your favorite chorister about timbre and see what kind of explanation you get. Chances are you'd be surprised to hear just how much thought and practice goes into blending with the other voices in the choir above and beyond correct pitch and volume; so much of it has to do with timbre, or tone-color (the music geek in me likes the German: klangfarbe).
To acquaint yourself with the concept of timbre, think of a trumpet and a clarinet playing the exact same note. You would certainly be able to tell the difference, right? Or think of Billie Holiday and Celine Dion (am I the first person on earth to use those two names in the same sentence?!) singing the same note. Yes, you could tell the difference. Why? It's not all correctness of pitch, or volume; beyond those obvious factors, it's timbre. There are so many factors that determine a particular timbre of a sound we can't even go into it, but much like every other branch of science known to humankind, we don't fully understand it all... and that's where biology comes in.
Much has been written about the psychological and biological relationships between twins; and while I'm no expert, I'm sure it's all very interesting. However, I can't imagine anywhere one could witness the unique relationship of twins that could be more artistically beautiful than when SviiB vocally harmonizes, or even for that matter sings in unison with eachother. Their timbres match on a level that no professional chorister can achieve: that is, biologically, organically in its most literal sense. It's just fascinating! And that is why for me, someone who never thought much of the relationship between twins, hears this music and must think: "Wow, there really IS something with this twin thing! I can HEAR it! And it actually sounds pretty amazing!"
Along with the sisters, Ally and Claudia Deheza, there is a third member, Benjamin Curtis. Curtis points out a major factor in the unique sound of the band: "We always do the vocals first in this band. That's a really big deal for us...To me, that's the most important part of School of Seven Bells." However, I personally think Curtis sells himself just a little short when he goes on to say: "Everything else is accompaniment, you know, in my opinion."
This "accompaniment" that Curtis helps to orchestrate, for me, is an integral, enjoyable, and even impressive part of the sound; though I do appreciate how the vocals are the driving element of the sound. It certainly makes for some interesting harmonic structures. Check School of the Seven Bells out, I personally can't listen to this album enough. Their new album, "Disconnect From Desire," is due out July 13, 2010. Look for it to appear in the library's catalog soon after!
NYPL CATALOG LINK:
School of the Seven Bells - Alpinisms (2008)
To Preview many of the great tracks on the this album,
click the links below:
Iamundernodisguise audio track
My Cabal Video
Half Asleep Video
School of the Seven Bells Myspace Page
Please Note: online audio links are provided for previewing purposes only. They are compressed and do not match CD-quality audio tracks. DON'T SETTLE for compressed tracks! Get the CD!