We’re all having a tough time these days in the Bay Area. It might be the worriment of the imminent tax day, our skyrocketing rent, or the recent dissolution of a rocky relationship. Or it could be as mundane as the feeling brought on by chasing down your morning commute through the pouring rain, only to realize that you forgot your bus fare once you finally catch up to it. Whatever the case is, we’re all in need of a curative soundtrack, and Cleveland’s Six Parts Seven are here to help out.
Entwining reflective, subdued instrumentation with tame, wistful melodies on its fifth full-length, Casually Smashed to Pieces (Suicide Squeeze), the group concocts eight tunes that make you want to curl up on a floating cloud and leave your headaches at the runway strip. The core members guitarist Allen Karpinski; his brother, drummer Jay; guitarist Tim Gerak; and bassist Mike Tolan mingle meditative, winding guitars, low-end bass, and restrained drums with soothing elements such as brass, piano, and woodwinds. Focusing primarily on mood and space, the 6P7’s instrumentals seesaw between joy and dejection, remorse and hope.
Though the sextet has considered adding a vocalist in the past, Allen Karpinski disclosed they were more interested in "making a very gorgeous sound together instead of worrying about lyrics or a singer."
He attempted to define the band’s sound over the phone while on a tour stop in Tallahassee, Fla. "There’s nothing very deliberate about the way we make our music we just play what we play," he revealed. "One of the things that makes us unique is that we are able to project our personalities into the music that we choose to play: the melodies, the actual aesthetic of the sound. We let the instruments sing instead of having a voice, and it always has sort of a melancholy undercurrent to it."
The group first emerged in 1995 as a bass and drum duo, which Karpinski describes as "basement project" for his brother and himself. After breaking up for a short time to pursue other projects, such as the brothers’ Old Hearts Club, the two reassembled 6P7 in 1997, this time with Gerak in tow, to record their debut, In Lines and Patterns (Donut Friends). The years following saw numerous lineup changes, and the ensemble began introducing violin, lap steel, and piano and vibraphone harmonies into songs on the Suicide Squeezereleased Things Shaped in Passing (2002) and Everywhere, and Right Here (2004). But 6P7’s basic, signature sound remained unchanged.
"We would be writing exactly the same album if we stuck with the same instrumentation," Karpinski said. "We change it up not only to have different textures but also to challenge ourselves."
Casually Smashed to Pieces is no different. Cornet and trumpet blend to give songs such as "Stolen Moments" and "Confusing Possibilities" the jazzy meltdowns they seemingly beg for, while strummed guitar and twangy banjo administer a dose of backwoods Americana on "Conversation Heart." In contrast to 6P7’s past efforts, the new, shorter album sounds much more polished.
"We tried to give the new songs a little bit more of a pop feel and more of a verse-chorus structure," Karpinski explained. "Most of our older songs are sort of based on a repetitive motif of notes or something cyclical. The kind of experimentation I like to do with the band is not to change too much, but someone who knows our records well would be able to tell the difference."
In the past couple years, the band hasn’t gone unnoticed either. In 2003, Suicide Squeeze released Lost Notes from Forgotten Songs, reinterpretations of 6P7 songs by such artists as Modest Mouse, Black Heart Procession, and Iron and Wine. National Public Radio uses their songs as segue music for All Things Considered, and their current tour finds them acting as Richard Buckner’s backing band. Karpinski claimed that although they will be playing two shows a night for most of the tour, they plan on keeping 6P7’s sets short and sweet.
"Our live sets are rarely over 30 minutes long, and I don’t think people have the attention span to stand in a room with all the distractions and listen to instrumental music for more than that," he noted and laughed. "You know, they start to get bored even if they love it." *
SIX PARTS SEVEN
With Richard Buckner
Thurs/5, 9 p.m., $15
Cafe du Nord
2170 Market, SF