The difficult third album.
School of Seven Bells deliberately start their third album with a head fake. The cranky, fuzzy bass solo that opens "The Night" sounds as if the band has transformed their sound to something in the vicinity of Cults, or god forbid, Sleigh Bells. But within 10 seconds, the familiar reverb-soaked thrum of Benjamin Curtis' guitar and Alejandra Deheza's pealing vocals puts the song right back into the expected sonic territory. Well...sort of. To their credit, Deheza and Curtis have taken external events -- Alejandra's twin sister Claudia Deheza left the band unexpectedly shortly after the release of their last album, Disconnect From Desire -- as a cue to rework their band's signature sound. You know, the one that had reviewers tripping over themselves to namecheck Cocteau Twins as soon as possible. Unfortunately, rather than making a concerted effort to create their own new sound, they've just expanded the list of '80s influences they cop from. Pulsating New Order-style sequencers underpin most of the songs, occasionally dipping into full Depeche Mode gothtronica; only occasionally, as on the wispy, chilly "Reappear," does the album slip back into the appealingly languid vibe of their earlier work. The more upbeat sound isn't necessarily a bad thing: bands should be encouraged to broaden their sonic horizons. But the combination of the different musical focus and the hard-to-get-over loss of Claudia's gossamer harmonies means that longtime fans really have to search to hear School of Seven Bells in these pleasant but slight songs.