Let’s get this album’s conceptual groundwork out of the way first, because it requires some explaining. The Six Parts Seven is an all-instrumental six-piece rock band from Kent, Ohio — three guitars, drums, bass and occasionally some keyboard twinkle and pedal steel shine. They treat their songs as pieces, affecting classical music’s high-art compositional pretensions — y’know, that sense of movement — while eschewing (let’s be consistent and call it) low-art repetition, like the kind you see vivifying the pop music you know and love.
On this kinda-sorta covers album, nine Six Parts Seven songs — whoops, I mean pieces — are, according to the liner notes, “re.made, re.defined, re.volutionized, re.alized, re.assembled, re.shaped, re.invented, re.vitalized, and re.deemed” by members of Modest Mouse, Iron & Wine, Pedro the Lion, and others. The original instrumentals are re-recorded (or is it re.recorded? re.re.corded?); then, more crucially, tunes are imposed on the music, and lyrics are sung to those tunes.
Which makes this record what, exactly? A concept album — something to do with the bridging of the gap between low and high art, in a way that renders such bridges functionally insignificant? Or is it simply a covers record? Maybe you could call it a tribute album (wince, cringe)? Or something in between? Something else entirely? Anything at all?
Who knows. Not me. But I do know that the album’s conceptual muddiness, plus the fact that no one in the world really gives a crap about the Six Parts Seven, all but precludes it from being anything more than mere background noise. Which — happy surprise of happy surprises — it pulls off wonderfully.
The first seven songs are ravishingly pretty, with twinkly piano notes and fragile guitar sound washing up on their shores just when you want them to. There’s a low-key spookiness present in each of these songs — amazing considering each song is by a different artist — that keeps things on the right side of the ambient/not-ambient dividing line: for proof, check out the attention-grabbing handful of off-kilter chords at the end of “Song of Impossible Things,” the one “re.alized” by some guy named Will Johnson from Centro-Matic.
Speaking of attention-grabbing, see the last two songs. “Cold Things Never Catch Fire,” “re.vitalized” by Katie Eastburn of Young People, is stomping metal machine music which (spoiler alert!) culminates in an awesomely rebarbative shriek guaranteed to rattle you from your nap. And the closer, Pedro the Lion’s reworking of “A Blueprint of Something Never Finished,” gives the album its first actual sustained beat, and you’ll thank the god of your choosing for that small favor. It’s a great song made better by context — it actually seems poppy after eight straight weird ones. Poppy, not to mention pissed-off, punky and vivified.