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School of Seven Bells at the Troubadour: Just This Side of Bliss

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Photo courtesy of School of Seven Bells

Post by Jack Skelley/Special to LAist

Brooklyn’s School of Seven Bells returned to L.A. last night with their tribaldelic dream-pop. If you haven’t been initiated into this cultish trio, School of Seven Bells is guitarist Ben Curtis (formerly of Secret Machines) and identical twin vocalists Claudia and Alejandra Dehaza (formerly of artsy vocal group On! Air! Library!). The sisters intertwine harmonies in styles tough to pigeonhole, except to say they are exactingly crafted (with hints of everything from The Roches to the Bulgarian Women’s Choir). Curtis jabs heavily processed chords and splashes bright colors. And everything rests on electronic beats that feel one step ahead of trends.

The breakout number from debut album Alpinisms is “Half Asleep.” Sublime, emotional, atmospheric, it brings to mind Brit-pop shoegazers such as Cocteau Twins (whose guitarist Robin Guthrie has remixed one of School of Seven Bells’ tunes). Other numbers feel more “ethnic” or “trance.”

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Last night the bliss factor was limited by the group’s line-up: It’s just the three of them; no drummer or bass player. Curtis yearns to churn out great washes of guitar noise, but much of the time he’s hunched over his Mac, babysitting the beats. Flanking him are the twins - one on keyboards, the other on second guitar - who recreate their harmonies beautifully. The girls are radiant, and each song is a gem. But because the entire structure is confined by the pre-recorded tracks, the groove is less than spontaneous. All this band needs is a good rhythm section. (Don’t they all?)