The 6ths – Wasps’ Nests

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist

I am not entirely sure what the point of this Stephin Merritt side project is. That is not in any way an insult; I love this album. It’s just that the sound is not distinguishable from the Magnetic Fields’ work and in that project, too, the lead vocals are handled by a rotating cast. I guess the conceit here is that each vocalist only sings one track – there is no repetition (not even extending into the second 6ths album, Hyacinths and Thistles). Speaking of which, Merritt undoubtedly intended to make all this as difficult to pronounce as possible. The exasperating effort required to enunciate “the 6ths,” Wasps’ Nests, and Hyacinths and Thistles, is enough to make Henry Higgins throw himself out a window. I would very much like it if someone who double-majored in psychology and linguistics could please tell me what it all means. I don’t know why the 6ths never released a third album. This debut is far better than the follow-up (which I owned but then sold).

What I Think of This Album

This album only served to further my devotion to Stephin Merritt, who is a lyrical genius and phenomenal songwriter, and I undoubtedly came to it having already had some minimal exposure to the Magnetic Fields. The melodies are superb and the keyboard-driven arrangements vary enough to keep things interesting. Naturally, the lyrics are peerless.

The only flaw is the reliance on different vocalists; while most are well-known in the indie universe, few, if any, are renowned as singers. It is unclear why they were recruited or how they were matched to any song. Why use Lou Barlow on the delicate “In the City in the Rain”? Why use Lou Barlow at all? Generally, none of the vocalists is able to lend any particular flavor to the material. Amelia Fletcher (who I love) does nothing for “Looking for Love (in the Hall of Mirrors),” and Robert Scott (whose band, the Bats, I also love) is unrecognizable on “Heaven in a Black Leather Jacket.” But these are relative quibbles.

There are some true Merritt gems on here:  “All Dressed Up in Dreams” is heart-shattering; “Falling Out of Love With You” is humorously cruel and resigned (and Dean Wareham’s deadpan actually fits perfectly); “Pillow Fight” is winsomely hopeful, with a great and too short guitar lead from Mitch Easter (Let’s Active); and “You Can’t Break a Broken Heart” is a fantastic yin-yang of vulnerability and defiance. These are the standouts, with another six or seven solid tracks supporting them.

Among the notable vocalists are Georgia Hubley from Yo La Tengo, Mark Robinson from Unrest, and Chris Knox of the Clean.

Tidbits: “Broken Heart” is sung by Velvet Crush’s Jeffrey Underhill (née Borchardt), who was earlier in Honeybunch, whose drummer was Claudia Gonson, who is the drummer/pianist/sometime vocalist/manager of the Magnetic Fields. Gonson also guested on an album by Amelia Fletcher’s Tender Trap. Tullycraft eventually covered “Falling Out of Love With You.”

The Best Thing About This Album

“You tried science, you tried art / But you can’t break a broken heart”

Release Date

March, 1995

The Cover Art

Borderline cool. I like the separate sections for the artist, album title, and label info and then for the art proper. I think the London records logo has vintage elegance. Confusingly, the title is in all lowercase on the cover but all uppercase on the spine. The art itself has a vaguely ‘60’s feel – sort of sexy and mod, in part based on the grainy character of the photo – as if it came from an episode of “The Prisoner.” I like how the curved space between the upper arm and the bottom loop of the 6 essentially becomes the model’s eyebrow, and relatedly, how the model’s eye becomes the oval space enclosed by the bottom loop of the 6. I feel like the stray hair encroaching on the upper arm of the 6 should have been addressed. I’m not a fan of the color palette.

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