Music

Six Organs of Admittance: Ascent

On Ben Chasny's new, full-band, electric album, the guitars are less than ever conduits for texture and instead more traditional deliverers of heady riffs.


Six Organs of Admittance

Ascent

US Release: 2012-08-21
UK Release: 2012-08-20
Label: Drag City
Amazon
iTunes

Ben Chasny's success as a musician is closely linked to the acoustic guitar. Classic Six Organs of Admittance records, like Dark Noontide or School of the Flower, rely heavily on Chasny's impressive acoustic stylings, which draw more than a few lines to John Fahey's Tacoma School or Robbie Basho or contemporaries like the late great Jack Rose. Chasny's success and the sound of his band are not, however, solely linked to the acoustic guitar. Though he returned to its charms on the band's last album, Asleep on the Floodplain, albums before it like Shelter from the Ash and Luminous Night explored more deeply the textures of heavily distorted electric guitars. Plus, we all remember – or should – Chasny's work in Comets On Fire, an unpredictable, volatile rock band if ever there was one.

So Ascent is being touted as the full-band, full-electric Six Organs of Admittance album, and it is markedly different from the band's other albums, though often in ways not altogether surprising. What becomes clear, from opener "Waswasa" on down, is that the guitars are less than ever conduits for texture on Ascent and more traditional deliverers of heady riffs. For all the wandering tonality of past Six Organs' records, "Waswasa" is a refreshing blast of rock heft, something more akin to Black Sabbath than art-rock wandering. It plays like a streamlined – and much improved – version of the guitar onslaughts we heard from Rangda, Chasny's side project with Sir Richard Bishop. But where that dealt in feedback and squall, "Waswasa" brings the hooks. The band rumbles behind, heavy with blues but propulsive, and the guitars knock out riffs and only break the spell of them to unleash towering, wah-heavy solos.

"Waswasa" is both a free sound and the sound of someone pulling free. No wonder, considering the title is a term used in Islam meaning repeated and unfounded doubts or fears. The song is a frenzied tugging on those exact chains, an attempt to break away from them and, as the title of the album implies, rise to some higher plain. It's fitting, then, that the next song is "Close to the Sky", a wide-open psych-rock desert cruise, full of gaping negative space around dusty guitars and Chasny's treated high register. It feels more expansive than its predecessor, less tensed up and knotted, even if the guitars still unleash some blistering solo hell. The song, more than "Waswasa" sets up the feel for the rest of the record. It is an album that still dabbles in the acoustic tones and spiritually charged atmospherics – see "They Called You Near" – but it reshapes them here into more clearly defined shapes. "Solar Ascent", the most stripped down of the songs on the album, does its fare share of noodling around, but you can feel the slow build of guitar phrasings building to something solid, not merely to more and endless expansion. "Your Ghost" feels like a basically structured folk song, with the deep echo of Chasny's voice floating over dreamy finger picking.

In these moments, the electric elements are more there for support than upfront muscle, but these songs also juxtapose with "One Thousand Birds", a song that bears little resemblance to anything in the Six Organs catalog or the Comets On Fire catalog. It's another psych-rock gem, one that meshes perfectly Chasny's ear for texture with dripping, hazy riffs and towering yet patiently paced solos. It's the perfect example of what's happening on Ascent. It is expansive and exploratory, but it has clear and recognizable rock structures. And here is where Chasny and Six Organs of Admittance succeed on this album – they have not adopted rock sounds to add to their aesthetic or continued to push the electric distortion and feedback of past records. Instead, they completely changed their approach and in the process became exactly what they claim to have become: a rock band.

This isn't foolish marketing or a ploy to differentiate this record from its predecessors. Chasny has taken all his love of squall and meshed it with his eye for structure, he's shaped his beautiful playing into thick and downright catchy riffs, and he's injected a new energy into his project. If the last album, Asleep on the Floodplain, looked back at his more acoustic records, Ascent does indeed rise above, leaving behind all but the best bits of past successes, and (hopefully) setting a fruitful and surprising path for a band that was already pretty unpredictable to begin with.

7

Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less
9
TV

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less
9

If space is time—and space is literally time in the comics form—the world of the novel is a temporal cage. Manuele Fior pushes at the formal qualities of that cage to tell his story.

Manuele Fior's 5,000 Km Per Second was originally published in 2009 and, after winning the Angouléme and Lucca comics festivals awards in 2010 and 2011, was translated and published in English for the first time in 2016. As suggested by its title, the graphic novel explores the effects of distance across continents and decades. Its love triangle begins when the teenaged Piero and his best friend Nicola ogle Lucia as she moves into an apartment across the street and concludes 20 estranged years later on that same street. The intervening years include multiple heartbreaks and the one second phone delay Lucia in Norway and Piero in Egypt experience as they speak while 5,000 kilometers apart.

Keep reading... Show less
7

Featuring a shining collaboration with Terry Riley, the Del Sol String Quartet have produced an excellent new music recording during their 25 years as an ensemble.

Dark Queen Mantra, both the composition and the album itself, represent a collaboration between the Del Sol String Quartet and legendary composer Terry Riley. Now in their 25th year, Del Sol have consistently championed modern music through their extensive recordings (11 to date), community and educational outreach efforts, and performances stretching from concert halls and the Library of Congress to San Francisco dance clubs. Riley, a defining figure of minimalist music, has continually infused his compositions with elements of jazz and traditional Indian elements such as raga melodies and rhythms. Featuring two contributions from Riley, as well as one from former Riley collaborator Stefano Scodanibbio, Dark Queen Mantra continues Del Sol's objective of exploring new avenues for the string quartet format.

Keep reading... Show less
9
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image