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Shoegaze: When an Invented Verb Becomes a Genre

Photo by Justin Hollar
Photo by Justin Hollar

Take Enya’s voice, lay it over some steady Calvin Harris beats, then add layers of reverb and synth effects and you’ll get something that resembles modern “shoegaze” (or nu-gaze). The layers of effects create a sort of soundcloud, which forces the listener to experience the song as a whole, rather than focusing on its individual aspects. Purists will say shoegaze only existed for a very short period of time, mostly in England, but iterations of it can be found at nearly every music festival today. Brooklyn’s School of Seven Bells is a perfect example.

School of Seven Bells (SVIIB) was originally a trio consisting of Benjamin Curtis and twin sisters Alejandra and Claudia Deheza. They met while on tour with different bands: Curtis with Secret Machines, and the Deheza sisters with On!Air!Library!. In 2007 they joined forces and launched SVIIB with Alejandra and Claudia’s haunting harmonies at the helm and Curtis acting as producer and guitarist. In 2008 the band released its debut album, Alpinisms, and a few years later its sophomore release, Disconnect from Desire, was a critical darling. 

Now a duo consisting of Curtis and Alejandra, SVIIB released GhostStory early this year. One member lighter and keen to explore new territory, this album plunges the band, for the first time, into storytelling. The album centers around the life and loves of a girl named Lafaye. Lyrics are more discernible than on previous releases, and melodies stand out a bit starker, but the essence of shoegaze lingers heavily. This results in a kind of dream-pop/shoegaze mashup. Discernible lyrics give the listener something to grab onto, something to relate to, while the wall of synth behind them lets those lyrics slide off and allows the listener to find their own experiences in Lafaye’s stories.

School of Seven Bells opens for Silversun Pickups 7 pm Friday, Sept. 7, at McDonald Theatre; $30 adv., $35 door.