As part of the long-established New Jersey Shore region’s heavy rock underground centered around acts like Solace, The Atomic Bitchwax, Halfway to Gone and a slew of others in the post-Monster Magnet sphere playing gigs at the Brighton Bar in Long Branch when Jacko Monahan was handling the booking, the three-piece Six Sigma made their debut in 2000 with the full-length The Spirit is Gone. Founded by guitarist/vocalist Doug Timms (ex-Drag Pack), bassist Scott Margolin and drummer Mappy, they gigged regionally and never in my experience failed to deliver a good time. The story goes that in 2001, the three-piece entered Trax East in South River, NJ, to record a follow-up and that album, Tuxedo Brown — or, the full title, Six Sigma Presents… Tuxedo Brown — was never released until now.
What might cause a release to be delayed 16 years? I don’t know. Anything, I guess. Life? Jobs? Just want to tweak that last vocal track one more time? Again, could be anything. Point is, the seven-track Tuxedo Brown arrives in 2017 as a limited run of CDs and 180g vinyl (out in May) after more than a decade and a half on the shelf, and one can only imagine the deep sense of relief Six Sigma feel in finally getting it out to the public. At seven songs/28 minutes, it straddles the line between EP and LP, but given the context I’m inclined to call it a full-length — and if one wants to consider The Spirit is Gone a demo, it could even be the band’s debut. Math can be fun sometimes.
Rest assured, the production bears some of the marks of its era in the sound of the drums on “Here’s Yer Stoner Anthem” (not a complaint), but the grooves come easy, the vibe is unpretentious, and Tuxedo Brown plays out like a time capsule unearthed from the Man’s Ruin era just waiting to find a new generation of appreciators. With cuts like “Curb Feeler” and opener “Tuxedo Brown” proffering thick boogie and the later “She Burn in Blues” nestling into eight minutes of languid flow — remember: the record’s only 28 minutes long, so that’s a substantial portion of it — they just might get there. The prevailing vibe is ultimately like earlier Fu Manchu with an undercurrent of East Coast intensity, which one can hear on the aforementioned title-track and its complementary bookend, closer “Mean Streak.”
The two have in common that they’re under three minutes long, and the same goes for the garage-punkish “Scalawag” at 0:51 before the airy Zeppelin-fied Echoplex-ery of “She Burn in Blues” takes hold as the penultimate cut, but the fuzz of “Tuxedo Brown” is a cowbell-laced delight and “Mean Streak” reaffirms a deep love of wah that Timms shows in the layered leads of “Curb Feeler” earlier. That track, “Curb Feeler,” is one of three that follow “Tuxedo Brown” and at four minutes each give a feeling of being the meat of the album.
That might be true in the sense of “Here’s Yer Stoner Anthem,” “Curb Feeler” and the centerpiece “Black Sand Valley Cover-Up” being where Timms, Margolin and Mappy settle into the funk-fuzz that in some ways comes across as the foundation from which the moves into punkier or more psychedelic territory veer to one side or the other — they’re the center, in other words — but the truth is more complex, and elements of one side feed into the other as the inclusion of organ on “Curb Feeler” nods toward the trip-out to come or the shuffle of “Black Sand Valley Cover-Up” jabs its way into “Scalawag” with more wah-pedal stomp and what’s by now a classic lead-with-the-riff mentality.
Given the organic representation of the era in which it was written and tracked, Six Sigma‘s Tuxedo Brown highlights where heavy rock has been and indeed the essential core of the style that, 16 years after the fact, remains relevant. It could be argued that the cyclical nature of stylization means that the trio just happen to be striking at the right moment for their sound to come across as well as it does, but listening to “Here’s Yer Stoner Anthem,” “Curb Feeler” and “Black Sand Valley Cover-Up” as they give way to “Scalawag” and “She Burn in Blues,” I think it goes further than that. The lineage Six Sigma establish to a modernization of ’70s rock — most typically heard in the band’s absence by what became the “Small Stone sound” post-Man’s Ruin — speaks to what might’ve been had these guys gone on to become labelmates with the likes of Dixie Witch, Halfway to Gone and, a few years later, Sasquatch.
Is it possible to be so right on time and late to the party? I don’t know, but that would seem to be the paradox of Tuxedo Brown, which winds up as both as it plays out its energetic course. I’m not sure how much Six Sigma circa 2017 did in terms of finalizing these songs for release — in addition to Trax East, recording is listed at Word of Mouth Studios in West Long Branch, NJ, and along with Eric Rachel (who also mastered), Chuck Schafer is credited with mixing — but they don’t by any means sound like they’ve been sitting untouched on a hard drive for the last half-decade-plus. That’s a credit to Six Sigma‘s songwriting as well as to whatever work they may have done in preparing Tuxedo Brown for its awaited issue, and while one is tempted as “Mean Streak” brings the record to its raucous finish to think of what the band might have in store as a follow-up, it’s essential to keep in mind the context of this release. 16 years’ context. How likely does that make a “next album” from Six Sigma, and what might something like that actually sound like as they move forward from these songs? One could only speculate.
They wouldn’t be the first to get going again after so prolonged an absence — Snail have done more since returning in 2009 than they did in their initial run during the early ’90s — and the exorcist purge of issuing Tuxedo Brown might prove a crucial first step for Six Sigma on their own march toward a resurgence, but that’s up in the air at this point. What matters right now is that after being such a long time coming, Timms, Margolin and Mappy have realized this album and clearly demonstrated that they did and still do have much to offer listeners who’d take them on. For relative newcomers to heavy rock, Tuxedo Brown offers a fresh taste of how things were done in the post-Kyuss early-aughts heavy rock movement, and for longer-term heads, it should and does just feel like coming home.