It is difficult to discern one song from another on Alpinisms, the full-length debut from School of Seven Bells. Led by the vocals of twin sisters Alejandra and Claudia Deheza (from On!Air!Library!) and the programming and guitar of Benjamin Curtis (formerly of Secret Machines), each song floats by on a haze of glitchy electronic beats and ethereal harmonies. The words carry less weight than the mood established by their laconic but delicate delivery.
In theory, School of Seven Bells is an exciting project. From his former band, Curtis brings an appreciation of droning, hypnotic rhythm and repetition. But on songs like opener “Iamundernodisguise” and “Half Asleep,” it’s the mood that dominates, not any climactic build, tension or release. And though the Dehezas’ sweeping harmonies and tasteful vocal layering are charming and beautifully executed (“For Kalaja Mari,” “Face to Face on High Places”), too much calm wears out its welcome if it isn’t followed by or preceded by action.
Alpinisms’ high points are “Wired for Light” and the nearly 12-minute “Semipiternal/Amaranth.” In the first, the climbing melodic lines of the female vocals reverberate just slight above Curtis’ feedback swells and processed, manipulated guitar lines; the dichotomy skillfully yields a sense of urgency. In the second, the music (loose but insistent drums, one guitar chord, a one-note keyboard pulse) again complements and plays off the vocals, building toward a climax. Even as the vocals “Allow yourself / To be relieved” are sung over and over, the music changes beneath it, pushing the song forward.
Like the band members themselves, Alpinisms is full of promise and obvious talent but would benefit from a more clearly defined direction.