The art of Climbing Mountains

School of Seven Bells is the rousing new band made up from the eclectic talents of Benjamin Curtis, former guitarist from the Secret Machines, and identical twin sisters, Alejandra and Claudia Deheza, who were previously part of On! Air! Library! and sometime collaborators with Prefuse 73.

School of Seven Bells’ stunning debut album, Alpinisms is a beautiful fusion of different styles of music from Afro-beat style drumming to the layering of synthesisers combined with Alejandra and Claudia’s haunting vocal harmonies. Benjamin first encountered Alejandra and Claudia while on tour in 2004, they watched each other perform and began to marvel at each other’s talents. Benjamin comments: “Alejandra had this vision for School of Seven Bells and we discussed it. Once that seed was planted we went in separate directions, I carried on with Secret Machines. In early 2007, it seemed like the right time to work on School of Seven Bells.”

The title Alpinisms is defined as “the art of climbing mountains.” Alpinisms was recorded and produced in their shared home in Brooklyn in March 2008, Alejandra, Claudia and Ben closed the windows and unplugged the phones settling down to a creative period. The eleven songs that result combine elements of electronically enhanced melodies with the twins’ distinctive harmonies. “We don’t have a formula for writing. The first thing that we focus on is the vocals and the lyrical idea. We don’t like the music to obstruct the lyrical ideas and always ensure that the music compliments the vocals to make them the focus point of the songs.”

The opening song, Iamundernodisguise sets the tone for the album. It begins with the sound of tribal drumming, which is paired with the introduction of the twins’ vocals. What follows is the development of a series of soundscapes, making full use of musical layering, combining vocals with strings and horns on Wired for Light to the sound of synthesisers and electronic bleeps on Half Asleep. The soundscapes emerge with a distinctive cinematic quality. “When we compose, we are open to all possibilities and engage in trial and error. We have found that some sounds really work together that you wouldn’t expect. We had a vision of a combination of a primitive rhythm with a sheet of sound happening around it. We hadn’t heard anything like Alpinisms before.”

School of Seven Bells played dates in London in October and toured the US in November 2008. The otherworldly sound of Alpinisms translates well to live performance. “We tried playing with other musicians, but after we made the record, we realised that we were fine with just the three of us. Performance has a lot to do with chemistry with people. When we’re on stage and performing our chemistry is really harmonic. Our favourite thing to do is play places that are outside of the big cities. It is great to play for people where you can tell that the sound is new for them.”

Alpinisms is an extraordinary debut album, which pushes the boundaries of perceptions of pop music to create an inviting sound. School of Seven Bells will be playing live in the UK and Europe in early 2009. “We are writing new music and the energy is still there. At the moment we’re excited to play more shows. The plan is to continue playing live and introduce ourselves to new audiences.”

Alpinisms is available now on Ghostly International.

Shona Fairweather