Thursday, December 9th, 2004
England & A Broken Radio
Here’s one for the ‘Great injustices in music’ files – Nottingham, UK’s Six By Seven. I first came across them during one of my previous “shoegazer phases”, this one in the Fall of 1998. A Beggars/Mantra compilation of new artists featured a track from their debut album The Things We Make that was actually more Charaltans-y than anything, but a little research yielded reviews that indicated their sound was more in the droney/spacey vein. It took me some doing to find a copy of the album, which contained several extended, taut and tense pieces (“European Me”, “88-92-96”) punctuated by shorter, punchier numbers like “Candlelight” and “For You”. The acclaim in their native UK was impressive and they seemed to be well on their way to “next big thing” status. In 1999, they released the surprisingly delicate Two And A Half Days In Love With You EP, which was the result of sessions with legendary producer John Leckie. Leckie would go on to produce several tracks on their follow-up record The Closer You Get.
The sophomore record was quite a departure from the gauze of their debut – what was kept under tension on that record exploded off this one. The screaming vitriol of songs like “Eat Junk Become Junk” and “Sawn Off Metallica T-Shirt” set the tone for the record, which still contained a number of more meditative, atmospheric pieces and beautifully grafter their shoegazer roots with righteous punk fury. Even their love songs seethed with gorgeous intensity. An underrated monster of an album, the promotional duties saw them travel to North America for the first time (though I missed their half-attended show at the Horseshoe in Summer 2000 on account of being out of the country, NME reviewed the gig) as well as lose co-founding guitarist Sam Hempton. Undeterred, they carried on and went back into the studio as a four-piece.
2002’s The Way I Feel Today was more stripped-down and straightforward than the previous two albums, but still ferocious. Feeling that their work had been over-produced to this point, they elected to record this album completely live off the floor and with no overdubs. With the absence of Sam Hempton, the band began utilizing more keyboards to fill in the space left behind, resulting in a more textured, haunting feel to much of the new material. Not entirely surprisingly, Mantra dropped the band after The Way I Feel Today failed to set the charts ablaze and to compound the hardship, bassist Paul Douglas quit the band in November of 2002. While the unrelenting string of bad luck would have spelled the end of lesser bands, the three-piece Six By Seven ploughed forward regardless. After releasing almost album-length EP Bochum in 2003 (the title track of which absolutely soars, by the way), the band formed their own label Saturday Night Sunday Morning to release their own music.
After a few singles, they released their fourth full-length, :04, in the Fall or 2004 (Review at Stylus). As a result of both necessity and choice, their sound has gotten less dense, recapturing some of the atmosphere of their debut effort though it makes more use of keyboards and programming to accomplish this rather than dueling guitars. One would never accuse the notoriously grumpy band of lightening up, but the record is decidedly more anthemic and postive-sounding, though that’s a very relative statement with Six By Seven. Moments sound almost Doves-ish, though a lot more abraisive. Though the album isn’t available on these shores yet (my ‘copy’ is an mp3 burn), they just announced that both :04 and it’s companion demos album Left Luggage At The Peveril Hotel will be coming out early next year in North America. Full details to come.
If you couldn’t tell, Six By Seven nearly tops the list of my “Greatly Underappreciated Bands” list. If you want to learn more about Six By Seven, visit your local library – or check out any of these links: Listen to some samples at MP3.com. Watch a live performance by the band at Mantra’s fifth birthday celebrations in 2000, courtesy of VirtueTV. PlayLouder interviews Chris Olley about losing one of their staunchest champions in John Peel. Mantra’s artist page still has loads of videos and audio tracks from the band’s releases on that label. The band’s website has a detailed discography that includes release-by-release discussions of how each record came to be.
The Onion AV Club rounds up their best albums of the year.
np – New Order / Brotherhood