School of Seven Bells' latest release, Ghostory, is textured and sonically insistent. There are broad brushes of sound and breathy vocals to boot. Apparently, it's a loose concept album about a girl named Lafaye and the ghosts, both real and metaphorical, that occupy her life. But, as the supernatural have become television mainstays thanks to shows like Ghost Hunters, SVIIB's third LP seems a little too practiced. This is not to say it's bad or unlikable--or even that it sounds like someone else--but just that, more often than not, Ghostory tends to follow the speed limit in a world where police don't exist.
School of Seven Bells became a duo after singer Alejandra Deheza's twin sister Claudia left in late 2010, but this hasn't slowed or deterred the group's direction at all. If anything, Deheza and guitarist Benjamin Curtis have turned their loss into gain, putting together an album capable of making a strong first impression. Unfortunately, it's a lasting impression that they struggle with; at nine tracks, Ghostory falls short on repeated listens.
Introduced by tough, muscular drums, a couple of exceptions do emerge: "Low Times" and "Scavenger" both showcase a side of SVIIB we don't hear very much. The twosome's brand of woozy electronica--which, at times, sounds like it was composed in a tomb from the future--is bolstered by its own irregular flexing. When it's good, it can be very good; when it's not, it's flat and familiar--like watching clouds gather but never seeing rain.
The biggest high point is Curtis' guitar playing, which does a solid job sharpening focus. His work, especially on "Lafaye," is evocative and powerful, a contrasting standout to the static of "Show Me Love" which, despite Deheza's pretty voice, doesn't match the want expressed in "Reappear."
Ghostory reflects that feeling of almost being asleep. Not a dream, not a nightmare, but quickly approaching something. The issue seems to be that Curtis and Deheza aren't sure exactly what they're working towards; if they do, they're not sure how hard to pursue it. The album is so cleanly produced that it sounds like they can't afford a flaw. And ironically, it's this seeming aversion to being perceived as imperfect that holds them back.