Following up the chilly, gothic-tinged electro-pop of this year’s well-named Ghostory, School of Seven Bells (currently duo Benjamin Curtis and Alejandra Deheza) have gotten even chillier and more gothic with the Put Your Sad Down EP.
Like Ghostory, Put Your Sad Down is frustrating because of its detachment. Deheza’s voice can be bone-chilling, but she never sounds like a human being—singing behind impenetrable smoke-screens of reverb, framing every zonked-out melody with the same robotic poses; meanwhile, Curtis’ production is tiring: always cranked to 11, downplaying dynamics and texture in favor of full-throttle programming and blindingly bright synth blasts. The sterile “Put Your Sad Down” lasts for 13 minutes, with plodding synth-pop giving way to droning ambience before circling back again; “Faded Heart” is all aimless, rave-y gloss; it’s rare to find a vocal line that feels auto-tuned, even when it actually isn’t.
When School of Seven Bells actually pause to check their pulse, they suddenly sound like a band again: “Secret Days” is a stellar reminder of what they’re capable of at their best, unfurling worldly rhythms, an incessant bass pulse and Deheza’s ghostly vocal harmonies into an uncrowded blend of textures, offering a much-needed respite from the torrential downpour of reverb and sheer volume. Put Your Sad Down is full of great ideas—it’s the execution that’s often shaky.