Album Review: Chris Olley

the death of six by seven (bandcamp release)

I'll be the first to admit that up until a couple of years ago I hadn't come across the work of Six By Seven frontman Chris Olley. In retrospect, I wish I had.

Six By Seven were a comparatively underground part of the 'indie' music scene from the mid-nineties through to 2008, releasing an extensive catalogue of acclaimed albums but never quite making a huge breakthrough and becoming a household name as did many of their contemporaries. From about the turn of the millennium, Olley also concentrated on more eclectic side project Twelve, his own solo material, and also production work (notable with Julian Cope).

The Death Of Six By Seven comes as Olley's most recent release and is, in his own words;

"An album [written] on a Tascam 8 Track using only analogue instruments. This album is supposed to be my answer to Bruce Springsteen's Nebraska, simple, stripped down and stark."

True to his word, the material here is wonderfully simple, decidedly focused around the quality of the songs themselves with only a minimum of accompaniment. It's not quite 'one man and his guitar' but the lo-fi, minimalist production and instrumentation does somehow deceptively give that impression, adding at times a sense of melancholia to the songs.

Tracks such as This Time (with the fatalistically cynical lines "I don't wanna be right about this one, I don't wanna be right this time"), Misspronounced and Courage could easily be paralleled in terms of sound by Spacemen 3 or Spiritualized, highly atmospheric and holding an evocative drone throughout, but lifted out of the mundane with Olley's understated vocals.

Others, including There's No Loving Me, Moving and Running, come across as somewhat more upbeat in the manner of 'Ur-Indie' (Yes, I just made that up), drawing comparison say with jangly tunes from a Sonic Flower Groove-era Primal Scream, or maybe Julian Cope in acoustic-mode. Standing In The Light I have to mark as my favourite however. It sounds like it could have quite easily been a Twelve or Six By Seven track, is dark and foreboding and gives the impression that something big, scary and dangerous is on it's way. A tense 'builder' that never makes it to the inferred breakout moment - but is none the worse for that.

The Death Of Six By Seven is one of those albums that ideally needs to be sat down to and listened to actively rather than left on in the background to get the full benefit. The overall impression is bittersweet, sad (but not entirely), mournfully poignant, but tinged with a resigned smile. Quietly personal in voice and timeless in terms of it's approach to quality songwriting, an album that isn't going to pick you up and throw you across the room, but will gladly tell you its life story with a touching calm.

(See also Bandcamp, Cargo Records and Chris Olley's Blog for details of further releases and Six By Seven archives)

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