Somewhere between releasing its sophomore album, Disconnect From Desire, in 2010 and starting production on latest effort Ghostory, School of Seven Bells lost a Deheza. That is, it lost Claudia Deheza, twin sister to vocalist Alejandra and one-third of the band. But Alejandra and guitarist/producer Benjamin Curtis powered on to make an album that does not sound like it is at a loss for much of anything. There is, instead, an urgency and energy not often associated with the band.
“White Wind,” in particular, pushes forward like a machine as Deheza enunciates verses in perfect staccato. She employs the vocal technique on “Low Times” as well, mixing it with a panicked whisper. “Low, low, low, low, low, low, low, low, low, low, low times,” she sings, her voice dropping with each word as the song gains momentum — from a simple techno beat to boisterous, machine-gun-like hiccups to an erratic heartbeat to disarming and disorienting layers of sounds — across six and a half minutes.
Many tracks turn a vindictive eye to a soured relationship. “Scavenger” is an exercise in name-calling, as Deheza drops the titular epithet throughout, pointedly leading the song to blame: “You took me like a drug to make you feel loved / to make you feel wanted / … / I made you feel something because you could feel nothing.”
For the most part, Curtis keeps the album on an even keel. There’s plenty of the other-worldly, spacey synth that the group has become known for, but it’s used — most impressively on three leading tracks “The Night,” “Love Play,” and “Lafaye” — to brighten the heaviness of the album. Without the complementing dark notes, it feels out of place. Because of this, Ghostory sags briefly in the middle, on “Reappear,” and at the end, with “When You Sing.” This closing track is nearly nine minutes long, but hardly makes an impression after its captivating instrumental introduction. It’s an uninspired ending to what is generally a sharp, full-bodied collection of tracks from what is now an equally sharp, full-bodied duo.