Music

Six Organs of Admittance Brings the Cosmos Down to Earth

Photo: Courtesy of Drag City Records via Bandcamp

Six Organs of Admittance's Companion Rises begins and ends in a pre-dawn haze, shadowed by an inky sky that stretches out toward the cosmos before landing softly back on Earth.

Companion Rises
Six Organs of Admittance

Drag City

21 February 2020

What does it sound like to be lost? The sensation of losing all direction along a seemingly straight path? What would it sound like then to meet a fellow traveler, a friend, or a companion along the way? The latest LP from Six Organs of Admittance, Companion Rises, sounds like both that journey and that meeting. It begins and ends in a pre-dawn haze, shadowed by an inky sky that stretches out toward the cosmos and before landing softly back on Earth.

Equal parts meditative prayer, primal scream, and solemn dirge, Companion Rises covers a lot of ground in under 40 minutes. From start to finish, Companion Rises embodies dozens of plaintive, musical moods that Ben Chasny, the primary songwriter for Six Organs' brand of psych-folk, effortlessly pulls from his worn bag of songwriting skills. Under the banner of Six Organs of Admittance, Chasny allows enough freedom to explore his brand of hushed, acoustic songs, but supplements with occasional psychedelic fuzz-rock found as on 2012's Ascent. Companion Rises, however, has Chasny relying on acoustic guitar fingerpicking with his transcendent, unusual tunings used to evoke mood and place. The visceral noises are in the background, but they've been relegated to secondary status.

A musical chameleon, Chasny is at his sonic best when he combines all elements into a primordial soup as he does on Companion Rises. The album skillfully combines and distills all his musical endeavors into an ode to movement and travel. Companion begins and ends with bookend tracks that signal the end and the beginning of a passage of unknown time. Opener "Pacific" rises, swims, and swoops like an electronic curtsy—a misleading doorway that doesn't fully materialize--while album closer, "Worn Down By Light" cues the curtain drop amidst a soft, empathetic electronic drone that incorporates Chasny's vocals trailing away.

On the other side of the electronic opening of "Pacific", there is a pair of Gemini-twin songs, "Two Forms Moving" and "The Scout Is Here", each one seemingly mirror images of the other in sound and style. It's been a few years since I've caught up on everything Six Organs has to offer musically, but as for craftsmanship and appeal, "Two Forms Moving" is one of the best tracks Chasny has recorded. Propelled by a joyous pulse and lead by a rhythmic fingerpicking pattern, Chasny marvels at the world in its enormity: "I see the cosmos / is in need of a friend / straight back in action and / start all over again." It sounds like riding the crest of a big bang, a moment of purity that we've all been aching to witness. Only Chasny could capture it with such popular sensibilities and suggest (without irony) that the cosmos might need a sympathetic ear.

"The Scout Is Here" rides a similar song structure, major key acoustic fingerpicking backed by buzzing electric guitar licks and Chasny's engaging falsetto. Together both songs evoke a scene similar to the idyllic image that graces the album cover, an image of darkness being broken apart by rays of light, two elements together in a cosmic hand-off. Down the road, "Black Tea" is partially defined by its title, using the name as a focal point for reminiscence of faraway lands. The spectral "Haunted and Known" evokes a minor key dirge that conjures a realm of echoes and shadows with Chasny's vocals particularly affecting. They float in and out of the space above a low-drone guitar picking pattern until they dissipate and scatter.

Companion Rises hews closely to Chasny's established musical and visual aesthetic. As a musician, he has always developed and fleshed out multiple layers inside and out of the music on Six Organs records, eschewing the notion that captured music must be limited to only aural realms. The layers of sound are found most effectively on the fulcrum of the album, "The 101". Hastened at the almost-halfway mark, "The 101" is as close to a standard rock song as Chasny can come without completely clearing the hurdle. In some other realm, some other dimension, Chasny's electric power chords and marching drumbeat would be classic rock music for the cosmos. But as close as Chasny flirts with the edge—something sounds eerily similar to a guitar solo around the two-minute mark—something pulls him back, a restraint that keeps the song grounded, loose, and indecipherably pleasurable. "The 101" is a highway song for abandoned highways, a driving anthem for hitchhiking ghosts and other lost travelers.

So what does it sound like to be lost? The answer depends on how you view the journey and your cosmic surroundings. Companion Rises can be the guiding light along your travel, a soundtrack-as-siren that keeps the pace as we move from point to point along the interstellar highways.

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