Last week School of Seven Bells released the last chapter of their critically acclaimed discography. After the death of Benjamin Curtis, founding member of the group, it seems like the end. Originally a trio which included twin sisters Alejandra and Claudia Deheza, the band had been riddled down to a the duo of Curtis and Alejandra by the time of 2012’s release Ghostory. A few months later, tragedy struck as Curtis was diagnosed with a rare form of T-Cell Lymphoblastic Lymphoma which he ultimately succomed to in December of 2013 at the age of 35. The last thing that Curtis worked on saw the light of day in 2014 as Deheza released his cover of Joey Ramone’s “I Got Knocked Down (But I’ll Get up).” This could have been an apt bookend to a great musical friendship, but there was one more thing yet to go: a self-titled release called SVIIB (referencing the common abbreviation of their name) on Friday February 26th.
After making the move from New York to LA to complete SVIIB with producer Justin Meldal-Johnson, Deheza focused on making a record the same way that Curtis would’ve wanted it made. SVIIB ended up being a very synth-heavy, and understandably melancholy record, but the universally overarching theme remained a sense of joy. Instead of feeling like a funeral, SVIIB feels more like a great send off. SVIIB fans never expected another album given Curtis’ passing, especially not something this empowering an uplifting, but it’s important to note that most of the writing for this project actually happened in 2012 before Curtis’ diagnosis. Deheza noted in an interview with Stereogum during the recording process that writing this record marked one of the happiest summers of her life. “We were finally in this place of just perfect peace, just being friends.”
Recording the record was tough on Deheza as well. Songs like “Confusion” are much more emotional than others. Deheza remembers “that particular song is so of that moment – Doing the vocal, I kept getting choked up. That was the last song we worked on in the same room together.” But even in this case, instead of dwelling on the illness, Deheza remembers Curtis fondly and with happiness, like the time where she describes to Stereogum that he had charmed the nurses to let him break out the hospital for the afternoon to record the organ for a song.
This was the last piece of music that Curtis ever worked on. And as the stories of this time reverberate, in it’s own way, SVIIB is a final chapter, while at the same time is the beginning of a new book where Deheza is able to return to music and SVIIB. Working on new music with new collaborators, and making peace with what happened in the past and learning how to write without him.
Whatever that work is, SVIIB marks the final act of the group. Losing a person so critical to your creative mind-set and personal life is, understandably a kind of experience you can’t process quickly. But having something to look back on, a completed body of work, shows a reflection of a friendship and a partnership that neither of them have found or will ever find again.