Live: School of Seven Bells + The Setting Suns

Live: School of Seven Bells + The Setting Suns
Mercury Lounge
Wednesday December 19

by Michael D. Ayers

A few years ago, when Interpol launched their first really big tour, they took along with them The Secret Machines, who were fast on the trails of something big themselves, and a more droney rock act called On!Air!Library! They played Hammerstein in a big way, ushering in a post-Strokes era of New York bands that were poised to take over the world. Well, none of that happened (though, Interpol did play the Garden this past summer, so maybe the apocalypse is still forthcoming).

Eventually, On!Air!Library broke up, and The Secret Machines churned out a not so hot third album, called Ten Silver Drops. That was it for me. Apparently it was also “it” for founding member Brendan Benjamin Curtis, who left the band earlier this year to pursue full time a band he formed called School of Seven Bells, which feature the construction-site whistle inducing twins from On!Air!Library!. You can probably see where this is going. The night would come full circle, as The Setting Suns featured Adam Franklin from Swervedriver and Sam Fogarino, drummer from Interpol. Needless to say, curiosity about both of these acts really drove me, and probably a good portion of the audience to the Mercury. Neither has a proper album out; The Setting Suns are signed to a tiny label called dh Records. Supposedly you can buy their EP off iTunes, but not the American iTunes. Just the UK one, and the pound to dollar conversion rate scared me, so I’ve been stuck with the few Myspace tracks.

Listening to School of Seven Bells on Myspace, you can immediately tell that On!Air!Library!'s Alejandra and Claudia Deheeza are in charge of commanding this band. And they do, sort of. They position themselves in the middle of the stage, with Curtis on their left, and other Seven Beller James Elliot on their right. Besides having good looks, very nice pipes, and past experience with sizable crowds, there is a whole lot of programming and sequenced beats going on, that will further detract from figuring out what Curtis and Elliot are doing, and thus keeping eyes gazed towards the middle. Each song is guided by two laptops, some mixers, and while that’s going on, sometimes Elliot will take the bass, others he’ll just keep hunched over the computer. Curtis usually plays the guitar, provides some backing vocals, and will immediately dive back into the Macbook once the tune is over, prepping the next.

So, if you expect a recreation of early Secret Machines, don’t. It’s much more in that Portishead, trip-rock vein. But sometimes not; at times there’s a “world” flair to their sound, which I guess makes them a bit exotic. That said, the Mercury didn’t seem very kind last night; a lot of times the vocals were muddy, and there was way too much bass in the mix. Curtis would be visibly wailing on the guitar, but you couldn’t hear a lick. It would be easy to banish them to the “forget” column, but because the sound wasn’t right, I’m not going to do that just yet.

The Setting Suns are much more than just a guitar / drum duo. On stage, they’re actually a five piece, consisting of two guitars, bass, and the Album Leaf’s Jimmy LaValle on keys. As in the past, it’s hard to make out Adam Franklin’s vocals, and last night was nothing new. So, I have no idea what the songs were about. But I did notice a few things, mainly that the Interpol drummer is really good, and he sounded very crisp, especially when paired with a shoegazy, fuzzy guitar sound. The whole thing is loud, and at times abrasive; what you’d expect from Franklin, but didn’t know something related to Interpol was capable of.

So, I guess New York has its own little indie supergroup. They have enough material for an album, and enough experience to draw crowds, but more importantly, they’re taking this project seriously. Sometimes you can get an auxiliary band that’s really painful to watch, because the group is cocky about their abilities and don’t put any efforts into their songwriting. This isn’t the case for The Setting Suns. It’ll be interesting to see where they take this in 2008.

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