Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Six Organs of Admittance

The Sun Awakens
Drag City

There is a deep dark reverence for Mother Nature and her indifferent majesty behind Six Organs of Admittance’s latest full-length, The Sun Awakens. Singer, guitarist and Six Organs’ center-piece Ben Chasney pics his guitar as though he were perched on the lip of a gurgling volcano, summoning spirits from several millennia of folk alchemy. Everything from Celtic strumming to John Fahey’s Appalachia flows through his morphine velocity.

Amidst the Will Oldhams, Smogs, Grubbs and other mania-damaged characters occupying Drag City’s roster, Six Organs is an anomaly that thrives in the unpopulated wilds surrounding traditional song writer fixations. The rhythms of wind blowing over tall grass, water moving downstream and the graceful finality of the life and cycle eschew Chasney’s concerns with interpersonal relationships. Rather, he stands in awe of Earthly design, paying heed to everything from the unmolested balance of nature to the droning resonance of the planet forever wobbling on its axes. Physical decay lurks behind every noise and every note plucked throughout The Sun Awakens. By holding back spiritual speculation and keeping the cannon fixed on bodily break down, he crafts a bleak though somewhat breezy take on the inevitable.

“Torn By Wolves” opens the disc, and by any other name the song would be a mountain-top jam eased out by bearded hillbilly’s, bathing in the dew and morning light of a brand new day. But under the guise of such a violent and unsettling title, one can hardly escape the mortal implications of the song. To Chasney life and death are equal and opposite gears of the same simple machine.

“Torn By Wolves” is the counterpart to “Wolves’ Pup.” Both numbers bookend a conceptual fugue where one life is ended and another is sustained.

Through it all songs like “Black Wall” demonstrate Chasney’s prowess with both his voice and guitar, pitting clusters of strummed acoustic strings over swells of electric distortion. His angelic, falsetto takes a back seat to the rising of his guitar, to great affect. His invasive vocal delivery from “Bless Your Blood” kicks the recording momentarily out of balance, before his instrumental arrangements restore a sense of harmony.

Virtuosity is as much of an asset as it is a detriment to Chasney’s songwriting. Previous albums such as School of the Flower have sunk into the prog. rock trap of excellent musicianship, but bad songs. Here, each song unfolds methodically, but never at the expense of an intriguing listen. Each song varies from a minute-and-a-half to nearly 24 minutes in length. It’s a demanding listen that requires deep concentration and zero distractions.

“The Desert is a Circle” is the closest thing to a pop song Six Organs has to offer with this go around. The Southwestern melodies around which the song takes shape are a welcome reprieve from the desolate nature of the disc. To the observant ear the circular minimalist motion of the song kicks up stunted tonal fragments that invoke the Doors’ “LA Woman” or any number of Ennio Morricone's Western soundtracks.
Although these sonic fingerprints are smudged on each and every song thus far, “The Desert is a Circle” is a cool oasis that allows time for reflection and gives perspective to each song before moving on.

“Attar” is carved out by a heavy handed Arabic beat and razor-sharp guitar noise that’s cut from the same cloth as Chasney’s more aggressive side seen standing defiantly in his other group, Comets On Fire. “River of Transfiguration” crams all of the heretofore ignored spiritual anxiety into one formless, drone equal in length to the rest of the recording. The afterlife is not so much an afterthought, but an afterward that bares no resemblance to the living world.

--Chad Radford
Published by Creative Loafing (July, 2006)