Six By Seven - 04

Alex Worsnip 21/10/2004

Rating: 3/5

It really is quite astounding that this album even exists. Six By Seven are perennial underdogs of the indie world; not, perhaps, as unfashionable as the similarly monikered Shed Seven, but certainly no more popular. Their doomy, stoic, black-clad building, towering rock songs have a home in the hearts of a considerably limited market. And they are declining from what weren't particularly great heights in the first place (being dropped by Mantra). But I like Six By Seven. I very much like their first three albums. Even so, even I had to doubt their longevity. With yet another member leaving between 2002's 'The Way I Feel Today' and this album, it did seem unlikely. But Six By Seven were always built around singer/guitarist (and now also bassist) Chris Olley, and consistency is both their strength and their weakness. They delivered solid albums in 1998, 2000, 2002 and now, bang on cue, 2004.

A title like '04' perfectly reflects Six By Seven. No frills, direct - representing both that it is their fourth album and that it is the year '04, quite simply. It boasts such emotive titles as 'Untitled', 'Lude I', 'Lude II', and 'Hours'. And sure enough, the album is typical Six By Seven. It marks no particular progression, except slight stylistic variations in selected places which only the devoted fan will pick up on. It very much harks back to the aesthetic of their first two albums: a cohesive whole as opposed to a collection of songs; little stylistic variation; generally slow, building and doomy; distinctive but not eclectic, with vocal tunes playing a secondary role to sound texture and atmosphere. This stands in marked contrast to 'The Way I Feel Today', which was more eclectic but also far more conventional in today's market, very much a collection of different songs and direction, and generally centred on stand-alone songs and tunes.

The album divide almost exactly into 6 very good tracks and 6 indifferent ones. On one hand, we have "Untitled", which builds on the Six By Seven formula by using an electronica beat, synths and intricately textured guitars, along with the traditional formula of stoic, almost monotone vocals, repetitive lyrics, and a building, journeying sound. We have brilliant first single "Bochum", which is a model of vibrancy and joy, built on an almost Balearic beat, a My Bloody Valentine-esque guitar/keyboard combination, and a catchy and touching chorus. We have album standout "Ocean", which rides along on a fantastic, almost Oriental synth line towards its shattering chorus. We have "Sometimes I Feel Like...", which is slow and harks back to the vibe of "European Me", except exploding into the heaviest thing they have ever recorded. We have the atmospheric and haunting "There's A Ghost". We have the epic, 10-minute builder "Leave Me Alone", which features excellent lyrics.

On the other hand, we have some disappointments. "Ready For You Now", which is supposed to be the commercial single, actually has a rather irritating chorus and organ line which are clearly designed to catchily replicate previous successes, but actually just irritate with uncharacteristically whiny vocals and being almost ridiculously derivative (specifically, of Spacemen 3). Not even a revitalising mixing input from Flaming Lips producer Dave Fridmann (now, why didn't they get him to mix the rest of the album?) can enliven what is essentially a very tired track. Meanwhile, 'Say That You Want Me' and 'Catch The Rain' are just Six By Seven-by-numbers, despite attempts at variation (a harmonica in the former and electronics in the latter), and 'Lude I', 'Lude II' and 'Hours' are all inconsequential instrumentals which would be acceptable as atmospheric filler on an album with more quality control amongst the proper tracks, but aren't here.

They appear to not quite have the edge of some previous albums. There's nothing as heart-swellingly gorgeous as "Another Love Song", nothing as commercially viable as "IOU Love" or "For You", nothing as explosively anarchic as "Speed Is In/Speed Is Out". The same old formula is very much being trotted out. It would be surprising to see them make a 5th album, but then again it was surprising to see them stretch to this. Perhaps they will just go on forever. At least with '04' they have kept up their consistency and delivered several excellent tracks - even if it doesn't quite have the general quality of previous albums.