Veteran UK rockers Six By Seven are no strangers to tumult, having experienced the lineup changes and lean beginnings that seem to be common storylines in the world of rock and roll. Yet, the band’s energy and drive, as expressed on their latest studio project 04, does not seem to have suffered for any adjustments or amendments to their creative process. Recording the album with a lineup consisting only of three of the band’s original members, the work on 04 reflects the players’ comfort with each other and with their musical direction (the group has since expanded and reformed with their original cast, minus bassist Paul Douglas).
Stylistically, the group mixes elements of shoegaze, ambient, and mid-‘90s Brit-rock into an amalgam which possesses enough accessibility to touch the mainstream while admirably never quite allowing themselves to be pigeonholed into or restrained by any sort of expected behavior related to classification. 04 is often an intentionally messy and noisy affair, yet there are moments when the members of Six by Seven turn out a more straight ahead product than one might expect. No matter how tightly or loosely the songs are coiled, there is an emotionally resonant quality to the band’s work that is undeniable and very appealing; it allows the best parts of the album to soar while carrying the project through the few instances where songs suffer from the great sin of being average.
04 opens mildly with “Untitled”, a song which begins with processed beats that eventually give way to a moderate rock feel and a very subtle sense of expansion. There are hints within the track of what the band is capable of, but it only as “Untitled” fades out and second offering, “Sometimes I Feel Like…” slowly billows into existence, that the album truly begins the process of taking shape. Arguably the record’s strongest cut, “Sometimes I Feel Like…” is a snapshot (if a five minute song can be considered a snapshot of anything) of Six by Seven in the throes of realizing the height of their collective kinetic energy. Faint atmospheric tones grow harsher, and just as vocalist Chris Olley completes a softly sung verse, the track explodes into a riotous chorus of guitars which spill and surge over the other instruments being played. Fluctuating back and forth between dynamic extremes, the song is a beautiful roller coaster ride through a full range of both sensory experiences and faces of the band’s persona.
The songs which immediately follow the periods of thunder and reprieve which mark “Sometimes I Feel Like…” continue the track’s ambition while exploring additional musical ideas. Cooling the fury created by its predecessor, “Ready for You Now” possesses a memorably anthemic Brit-rock feel while “Ocean” gives space to shifting pitches and timbres, allowing an undercurrent to develop during the track which sounds as if it could end in rock and roll glory or a complete derailing. This feeling of uncertainty and the accompanying lyric, “There’s a storm cloud covering me / As I lay down and let the ocean, the ocean cover me… I rest my head and feel my body in motion / I rest my head and cool myself in the sea / I need a chance and I’m willing to try now / Another day is another chance to weather the storm” are a wonderfully apt representation of the type of cascading sound in which Six By Seven traffics.
Throughout this early concurrence of tracks, any time the band comes even close to embracing the clichéd, they adjust an aspect or aspects of the track so as to add a new layer and dimension. For example, “Say That You Want Me” opens in fairly dated fashion, reminiscent of the early/mid ‘90s Brit-rock typified by albums like Radiohead’s Pablo Honey, yet Olley’s harmonica gives the song an almost streetwise swagger that engages despite the so-so energy emanating from his guitar and vocals. Once again, the creative momentum is continued, though altered dramatically, by “Lude I”, the first of three relatively brief Eno-like ambient instrumentals, which serve not only to cleanse the palate, but also enhance the album’s sense of cohesion through diversity.
From this point forward, 04 becomes a bit spottier in quality and its consistent approach to presenting fresh or captivating artistic concepts. The swelling, almost Pink Floyd-like “There’s a Ghost” and electronic love song “Bochum (Light Up My Life)”, a true expression of positive energy, rate with the high moments of the album’s initial sequence. The continued commitment to both the atmospheric and the gradual development of a song is expressed through the other two ambient instrumentals, “Lude II” and “Hours.” Yet, the second half of 04 is dominated by mediocre tracks which though offering musicality and merit, disappoint by the standards initiated early in the recording. Tracks like the almost numbingly subdued “Leave Me Alone” just do not ever amount to much while closing pair “She Didn’t Say” and “Pretty Baby” feel like an unnecessary trip down well-worn musical paths, relying on overused guitar tones and song diagrams that, at this point in the band’s progression, seem beneath their level of musicianship.
Though the album closes with some of its weakest notions, 04 relays a number of intriguing and captivating musical moments which proves Six By Seven’s remaining relevance in their second decade of existence. The band’s capacity to express both the frustration and poetry that come through the constantly changing nature of life should be a drawing point to those wishing to experience art without pretense or veneer.
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// Notes from the Road
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