[12 February 2009]
Commitment. Everything about Six Organs of Admittance’s latest release smacks of it, starting with mastermind Ben Chasny’s recording its entirety at home on a Tascam cassette 4-track recorder. RTZ stands for “Return To Zero”, the button that allows the user to quickly return to the beginning of the track. These are not humble little bedroom tapes, but ornate, epic collages of sound and song that speak of real devotion: to the Eastern- and psych-tinged melodies and instrumentation that flavor 6OOA’s folk symphonies, to home recording, to active and involved listening.
RTZ compiles various pieces, mostly released, and re-released, between 1999 and 2004 on various small labels, only one of which does not break the 10-minute mark. Anyone who has ever spent time with a Tascam or Roland or any other console recording device knows the amount of dedication and patience such feats must have taken. Consequently, the size and scope of RTZ requires commitment on the part of the listener as well, which is duly rewarded.
The opening piece, “Resurrection”, is divided into five movements across one nearly 20-minute track, beginning with the slightly cacophonous strings and bells of “As Voyage, In Voyage” and ending in a creaky, moody coda (“Her Breath, A Prayer”). To isolate one section at the expense of any of the others is still possible in the digital age of cutting and pasting, but not advisable. The experience of RTZ, as in much of Six Organs of Admittance’s music, is meditative journey rather than easily digestible pleasure.
Which is not to say that “You Can Always See the Sun”, for example, is all toil and no sweetness. Starting with a few carefully chosen and strummed guitar chords, the song unfolds into cicada-like buzzing, then into a combination of melody and drone, and on and on in successive passages of darkness and light, challenge and ease. The sweeter, calmer moments in the song feel so all the more because they follow more complicated sections. The sole previously unreleased track, the five-part “Punish the Chasms With Wings”, is also the most unlike its companions on RTZ, merging quiet static and atmospheric noise with distant pianos, then launching into an electric guitar freak-out. Each listen presents new details to hone in on, or get lost in.
For those who were unable to track down the previously released material, RTZ is a boon (and for vinyl lovers, a feast on triple-gatefold LP). For fans who are mostly accustomed to Chasny’s more concise, song-based albums (Dust & Chimes, School of the Flower), it will be slightly flummoxing. But the elements of chant, Fahey- and Basho-style guitar twirling, and cryptic, knotted melodies that inspire the Six Organs of Admittance catalog are all here in extended form, representing the commitment on the parts of Drag City, Time-Lag, Mental Telemetry, and Three Lobed Recordings to trust in the attention spans and open (and opening) minds of contemporary audiences to wade around in experimental psych-folk pools a bit murkier and less accessible than the norm.