Monday, December 12th, 2016

School of Seven Bells – Ablaze

Having defeated an attempted coup by The 1975 Club, The Singles Jukebox returns to its regular Amnesty programming…


Will Adams: “Ablaze” fades into view as if turned up on the radio, which is appropriate: like old, fuzzy radio, the song is the happiest type of nostalgia, from its New Order-reminiscent synthrock to Alejandra reminiscing on a beautiful love story. “You saw the stars in me when I had sunk into the black” kind of destroys me; it’s a galactic take on a common sentiment that elevates the love story even higher.

Jessica Doyle: This song reminds me of the feeling of settling into my seat at the planetarium, awed simultaneously by the images on the screen projected high above me and the trick of projecting itself: how could a finite space be transformed into something with so much, well, space? The sound of “Ablaze” does that: there’s no trickery, and yet somehow with every circling around the space of the sound gets bigger.

Alfred Soto: From the way the percussion track is mixed and the arrangement of the breathy, doubletracked vocals “Ablaze” could have topped the modern rock chart when Poppy Bush ruled the land, and, yes, it does sound fusty and, like The 1975, too infatuated with a sound to care. But Alejandra Deheza mistrusts vagueness. As an elegy for Benjamin Curtis, it’s tougher in its last third than I expected; as a valentine to the kind of euphoria — recording, making love — that refreshes life for the living, “Ablaze” is terrific. 

Katherine St Asaph: The other of the year’s three grand eulogies, though in this case by accident: Alejandra Deheza and Benjamin Curtis had written almost an entire autobiographical album before the latter succumbed to lymphoma. It lends unavoidable subtext — the first words on SVIIB are “how could I have known” — but you don’t need biography to recognize the most perfect synthpop track of the year: an intro of windswept vocals, a track like an edifice far larger than its inhabitants. The lyric isn’t one of physical love (that’s “Signals”) nor romantic love exactly, but redemptive love, expressed more earnestly than pop and indie ever allow: “You told me how you saw the stars/you told me that till I believed.” Out of context it sounds like John Green sap, but it comes at the end of verse two, after a bleak and entirely familiar scene of resignation. It’s a bespoke love story whose intended listener will never hear it; even this listener barely can. It’s not for the pathos or the biography — that’s “Open Your Eyes,” a semi-staple in coffee shops and stores and other places it isn’t good for me to start bawling — but for how it renders attainable, by a group that by all accounts was among the hardest-working of their peers, a level of love that seems all but achievable. The societal structures to forge it simply don’t exist, all evidence suggests; for anyone, certainly for me. Believing, and loving, songs like this anyway are perhaps some fucked-up, perverse form of masochism. Or perhaps it’s hope.

Brad Shoup: That stomp into a disco backbeat, goosed with vocals sighing upward: it’s like stepping into a cannon. It shoots you over the clouds and just kinda holds. More than any in memory, this has been a year of performative mourning. So many of us (and I say “us” because I’m sure did this a couple times on Twitter) responded to famous deaths, timely or untimely, by moaning “2016” and nudging the folks around us, like someone’s passing was some cosmic own. “Ablaze” reminds me of The Choir’s response to the unexpected death of alt-CCM luminary Gene Eugene. They slapped a memorial together, something cozy and grateful, with corny wordplay and soppy metaphor. It still destroys me.

Ryo Miyauchi: Longing for an absent body could’ve been an easy emotion to reach for School of Seven Bells and their My Bloody Valentine pop; “Ablaze” could’ve sunk endlessly to grief. Instead it floats glamorously as it expands in density. Alejandra Deheza clutches her heart tight as she soars, forever grateful for love ever happening than  mournful about her loss.

Tim de Reuse: “Ablaze” rides a cloud of feathery distortion over a beepy major-chord arpeggio and a four-on-the-floor beat, starting strong and staying strong for pretty much the entirety of its five-minute run. It’s all payoff and very, very little build, which would be a mortal sin were it not for the ear-candy indulgence of the earworm-friendly vocal harmonies — when it all comes together, it’s a subtly brilliant act of sound design. It’s just enough to make up for the fact that I was distinctly wanting for some new ideas by the very end of it.

Edward Okulicz: Reminds me weirdly of The Delays’ “Valentine,” in that it’s part disco-synth-pop bop and part wall of haze and guitar, with the former submissive to the latter. Oh and there’s a repeated melodic line, just aahs and breaths, that reminds me of an equivalent part of Kylie Minogue’s “I Should Be So Lucky.” I’m easily impressed by dreamy pop in any form, and I like how aggressively three-minute perfect-pop this is, even with a 70 per cent longer running time.

Jonathan Bogart: I wish I had more of an immediate reaction to this beyond wanting to listen to old Cocteau Twins, My Bloody Valentine, and Lush records instead; the present tense should never be pushed aside in favor of the past, even when it’s a faithful recreation. And for those who had already encountered beauty, wisdom, transcendence, and deep emotion in SVIIB’s work over the years there is, doubtless, a lot of ache and catharsis to be drawn from a final post-tragedy work. But for me shoegaze is firmly in the past, and I have no more need for a 2010s shoegaze band than I have for a 2010s jump blues or Dixieland band.

Thomas Inskeep: Out-of-time shoegaze weakened by 2010s production and thin vocals. 

Iain Mew: I love the wobbly bass emerging from a distance intro, and even more so when it doesn’t introduce a Stone Roses song but instead a kinetic blast of everything at once. The confident way they modulate and play with that force over the course of the song is delightful.

Ramzi Awn: “Ablaze” neglects to capitalize on the power of soundbites and opts for a rather baroque approach instead, resulting in an impressive but ultimately confusing display of talent. There’s something self-contented that overshadows the school’s obvious skill with bells and whistles. 

Jonathan Bradley: “Ablaze” is underpinned by a robust, confident rhythm section that sweeps along beneath a dreamy arrangement to which it barely seems connected. Alejandra Deheza’s glass vocal barely brushes against the guitar churn, let alone that beat. The lyric concerns a glowing ember of a heart that “set my world ablaze again,” though I mishear the final syllables as “oblivion.” That still comports though: “Ablaze” rockets into a nothingness of fizz and haze.

Reader average: [9] (1 vote)

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5 Responses to “School of Seven Bells – Ablaze”

  1. Wait, Gene Eugene died?

  2. yes sir, long time ago

  3. This fucking year.

  4. Closer to “that fucking year 16 years ago”

  5. I missed this but it would have been a [9]