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)


MM.. Food?
Rhymesayers Entertainment

Somewhere between the murky metropolis of New York and the vast suburban sprawl surrounding Atlanta, hip hop supervillain MF Doom has honed his diabolical skills while lurking stealthily in the shadows. MM.. Food?, the follow-up to his lumbering 1999 debut Operation Doomsday, proves that although his true identity remains a closely guarded secret, the metal-faced menace is a real Southern mutineer. The slothful grits and sweat tea production coupled with his Brooklyn-stoopid drawl find the rogue emcee displaced in the South with an insatiable appetite for world domination. MM.. Food? is a veritable cornucopia of mental munchies that blows the whistle for a lunch break from his busy schedule of tyranny and oppression.

Splicing together a labyrinth of cartoon samples and sluggish beats and rhymes, opening cuts "Beef Rapp" and "Hoe Cakes" let the pieces fall where they may, proving that the less he tries the better he gets. Food picks up where Operation Doomsday left off, pulling no surprise punches. The only difference is that Doom has learned to embrace his less-is-more methods, making his slapdash style sound good.

It ain't easy being cheesy and "Kon Queso" and "Kon Karne" make it plain that the meat of his ghetto fabulous sound lies in a simple and undemanding plod. Guest appearances by Mr. Fantastik in "Rapp Snitch Kanishes" and Angelika & 4ize in "Guinnessses" unveil some new faces in the faceless one's crew. In his own words, "everybody wanna rule the world like Tears for Fears," but he can't do it alone. Even Doom has a posse - where better to introduce them than over a nice meal?

--Chad Radford
Published by Flagpole Magazine (January 12, 2005).



The war drums and Russian-gothic chanting at the onset of Barbez's Insignificance set a tone for angst-ridden and shifty-eyed scowling - all for the sake of art. This ethno-fueled band of Brooklynites isn't churning out the standard fare of Williamsburg avant-garde hipster shit. The plunking and wailing contained within is the result of trans-continental, accomplished musicians shedding academics to plunge head-long into more than just a little night music.

Vocalist Ksenia Vidyaykina's guttural and alluring voice at once conjures the occult qualities of Siouxsie Sioux while adopting a traditional, Eastern European accent. Her bass-heavy bellow provides the perfect counter-weight to the twinkling procession of vibes, theremin, Palm Pilot and guitar that follows in her wake. "Fear of Commitment" snakes through moments of murky yearning before clusters of chaotic rhythm and percussion constrict with confusion and ever-blackening tension. And while songs like "A Melancholy Picnic" and the title track are bursting with textural spookiness and a supernatural timbre, there's a rock element underlying it all.

To label Barbez a chamber punk ensemble not only encompasses the point; it also overstates it. Fans of straightforward classical music won't find much appealing about Insignificance. Nor will enthusiasts of cut-and-dry punk and indie rock. Any and all sense of nihilism swelling up in these songs is eclipsed by a dark, Romantic resonance and a spirit of expression and experimentation that jumps these boundaries. Barbez's exchange of traditional and modern methods to push the music into compelling new territory is anything but insignificant.

--Chad Radford
Published by Flagpole Magazine (Oct. 2005)