There is a fine-line between the ethereal echoes and moody textures of dream pop and the ambient, almost alien sonic landscapes of electronic shoegaze acts. Dream pop may have the word "pop" in the title but it is only an emphasis on beautiful and almost sensual sounds that separates it from more traditional ambient music. School of Seven Bells (SVIIB) has made a career off of straddling this line. With their first two albums (when SVIIB was still a trio before the departure of Claudia Deheza), Alpinism and Disconnect from Desire, SVIIB made dream pop at its most ephemeral. The atmosphere was thick and enchanting but like the dreams that gave their genre it's name, their music quickly slipped back into the void from whence it came. SVIIB's newest album, Ghostory, is their most direct production yet, and while it occasionally sags under the weight of its more erudite ambient ambitions, Ghostory stands as a considerable step forward in SVIIB owning their distinctive sound.
From the opening notes of "The Night," you know this isn't the same School of Seven Bells as their previous work, and regardless of your attachment to their previous albums, they've never felt more in control of their sound. At its best moments, the album serves as a tribute to classic New Wave and post-punk acts from the 1980s that so many other acts this year have tried to recreate and more often than not failed. On tracks as varied as "Lafaye" or the killer album closer "When You Sing," Benjamin Curtis and Alejandra Deheza explore the cogs and gears of the New Romantics and what exactly causes that music to work directly on so many fans' pleasure principles, and then filters it through Deheza's lush upper register as well as an endless flow of transitory sonic flourishes that don't propel the music forward but gently push it down the stream of their intricate melodies.
For fans of ambient music, the entire album is a resounding success because of the way it all seamlessly comes together to create a cohesive album experience. However, problems unfortunately arise when certain songs are taken out of the context of the LP as a whole because they seem to be a regression back to the more nebulous music of SVIIB's past. While no song is bad per se, tracks such as "Reappear" and "Show Me Love" lack the instantly recognizable hooks or melodies that make the rest of the album such an impressive evolution in SVIIB's sound. Still, that aside, School of Seven Bells may have lost one of their founding members, but the band has not only managed to not suffer for it, but they have come out stronger.