Sometimes an album will click with me at the strangest time and place. Take Six by Seven's sophomore album, The Closer You Get. I'd had the thing in my possession for a year or so, already written up a mildly positive review of it, and stashed it in a pile next to the CD player -- where CDs tend to accumulate and receive, at best, a minimal number of plays.
But one weekend morning, I decided to take a trip downtown using public transportation. As I do whenever I'm going to be away from home for any extended period of time, I brought along my trusty Discman and a handful of CDs. Just so happens that I was in a rush and grabbed the first few albums on the top of the aforementioned pile, instead of actually shuffling through the CD cases.
Once on the train, I pulled out the CD player and scanned the albums I had brought with me: The Webb Brothers' Maroon, the Walkmen's Everyone Who Pretended to Like Me is Gone, Radiohead's Amnesiac, and, finally, Six by Seven's The Closer You Get. I wasn't in much of a depressive mood, so I picked The Closer You Get, the liveliest album of the bunch in my estimation.
As I said, I originally thought the album was a shade above mediocrity; however, somewhere on that train ride, The Closer You Get fell into place. It was like hearing an entirely new album. Even though it had been in my collection for several months, I hadn't ever really "gotten it". But when I really bothered to listen, rather than simply go about my business with some music in the background, it struck me that Six By Seven was attempting something truly incredible. The Closer You Get was the most pitch-perfect fusion of Nirvana's melody and My Bloody Valentine's artful abstraction I'd ever heard. And Chris Olley, who I'd previously dismissed as your stereotypical "indie vocalist" -- short on style and substance, suddenly became the genuine article, full of soul and meaning.
Needless to say, I had high expectations for the follow-up, which finally arrived earlier this year. The Way I Feel Today picks up where the last one left off. Six by Seven are still mining for indie gold in the grunge and shoegaze caverns. However, in this case, Six by Seven are coming closer to approximating the work of Bush and Melochrome than the respective genres' leading lights. What felt like a futuristic prototype on The Closer You Get now resembles a broken-down jalopy.
It's hard to pinpoint exactly what went wrong, so maybe I should start with what's right. The first single, "I.O.U. Love", showcases and gorgeous and previously unexplored side of the band by zeroing in on the rhythm section and Olley's icy howl. It's as close as the band has dared tread to Joy Division, but thankfully, they do it without descending into mawkish theatrics. The single hints at a potentially rewarding creative direction for the band. Unfortunately, it's a path that's largely unexplored on the rest of The Way I Feel Today.
The band splits the rest of the album between sub-Bush grunge leftovers and impossibly slow exercises in patience -- with no payoff. In both cases, the tension found on "I.O.U. Love" is sorely missed. Even the lyrics, which have never been a strong point for Olley, have noticeably dipped in quality. The fast-paced rockers stick to the Rossdale School of NonsenseTM, e.g. "All the eggs were scrambled / You were my covergirl / I never promised you nothing". When Olley & Co. slow it down a notch, the lyrics get a bit more bearable, but you'll have trouble finding any depth to sentiments like: "I adore your conversation / I adore just who you are / You inspire my imagination / I adore just who you are". The banalities are particularly painful in such a stripped-down context, when there are far too few musical distractions. At least on The Closer You Get, Six by Seven had the good sense to mask their weakness with hails of guitar fuzz.
The Way I Feel Today is by no means a successful album, but it does suggest loftier aspirations -- especially on "I.O.U. Love". If Six by Seven can figure out a way to harness that song's breathtaking scope and verve for the duration of a full-length, they may well join the elite ranks of the art-rock brigade -- currently inhabited by groups like Interpol and Les Savy Fav. Sadly, The Way I Feel Today only pushes them further away from reaching those heights.