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Six Organs of Admittance - Ascent

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Artist: Six Organs of Admittance

Album: Ascent

Label: Drag City

Review date: Aug. 16, 2012

Ascent picks up on a project that has been shelved for a decade, ever since Ben Chasny toured with Comets on Fire, with Ethan Miller, Ben Flashman, Noel von Harmonson and Utrillo Kushner backing him up in a wholly louder, more electrified way than most people would have expected from Six Organs of Admittance. There was talk of an album, but instead Chasny joined Comets on Fire. Over the next decade, Chasny continued his droney, dreamy, forays into tripped-out, six-stringed folk, sometimes acoustically, sometimes plugged in, but the idea of a molten, pedal-screaming, psychedelically overdriven Six Organs was put away. Comets on Fire itself went on hiatus. Miller focused on Howlin’ Rain. Von Harmonson toured with Sic Alps. Kushner put out a couple of solo records. Chasny joined Rangda, and while he played a few of his Comets/Six Organs songs on tour, but it seemed unlikely that anything else would ever happen with them.

Then last year, schedules lined up and Chasny, Miller and von Harmsonson found themselves in a studio together for the first time since Comets on Fire’s Avatar. It had been five years since they had even played a show together. Chasny dug out older material — “Even If You Knew” dates from that 2002 tour with Comets, sprawling “Close to the Sky” was on 2003’s Compathia and “A Thousand Birds” has been a live staple for years — and the band banged out some new ones. The result is surprisingly fluid, given the lay-off. You don’t have the sense, at all, of people blowing the dust off these tunes.

This iteration of Six Organs isn’t identical to Comets on Fire. For one thing, Harmonson has switched from Echoplex to guitar, eliminating one of the more distinctive, anarchic elements of that band’s sound. For another, Chasny, rather than Miller, does most of the solo work, so there’s an Eastern edge to even the most flipped out shredderies, like on “Wawasa.” You can hear a bit of Chasny’s time in Rangda in this new track, which starts out the album, its freight-train riff bent in interesting, non-western tonalities, like The Yardbirds if they’d discovered raga before the blues. “Even If You Knew” is the other monster track here, a thunderous bass riff supporting filigreed frenzies of guitar, the dreamy, drifty delicacy of Chasny’s voice floating on a roiling, throbbing overload of ’60s psych.

Yet it’s not all about hot-wiring Chasny’s folk melodies, revving the engines and driving off in a squeal of rubber and smoke. Even the tracks that sound most like latter day Six Organs — “Close to the Sky” for instance — can expand and erupt dramatically in this new configuration. A long dreamy opening — just bass and drums to frame Chasny’s voice — catches fire mid-track in slow-shifting, distortion-altered guitar soloing, a kind of Neil Young-ish controlled frenzy. “Solar Ascent” starts in utter tranquility, a softly-rounded, reverberant guitar line leading, little squalls and twangs and cymbal rolls flitting around it. A massive distorted guitar comes in near the end, adding dissonance but never chaos. This is a very orderly freak-out, far more structured than Comets on Fire. In a recent Uncut interview, Chasny drew a distinction between the two bands that makes a lot of sense. “In Comets, there was a thrust toward excess in all parts,” he said. “In Six Organs, there is an attempt to make a solid foundation on top of which to build that excess.”

Ascent is, then, wild without being out of control, turbulent with a deep sense of calm at its center. It is beautiful in a way that Comets on Fire rarely managed, and fiery to a degree seldom reached by Six Organs. It makes you wonder what the last ten years would have produced if Comets on Fire had joined Six Organs, instead of Chasny joining Comets. But mostly, it reminds you of what you liked about both Comets and Six Organs, and takes that good stuff a few steps further.

By Jennifer Kelly

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