Artist: Six Organs of Admittance
Album: Six Organs of Admittance
Label: Holy Mountain
Review date: Jul. 29, 2003
East Meets West, They Do Some Drugs
San Franciscan Ben Chasny has been a crucial factor behind the current revitalization of the Southern California psychedelic rock scene, as a member of Plague Lounge as well as the F You Too and as a contributor to Comets on Fire. But he is best known as the sole permanent member of Six Organs of Admittance. When playing under this name, Chasny combines nimble acoustic guitar ramblings with assorted drones to create minimalist psychedelic folk with tinges of traditional Asian music. The 2002 release Dark Noontide received widespread critical recognition, leading Holy Mountain to reissue this self-titled, self-released debut album from 1998, adding two previously unreleased tracks. It’s an ultrasound snapshot of an embryonic Six Organs of Admittance: the songs are less mature and the personality is not completely developed, but the potential for greatness is obvious.
Opening track “Maria” showcases Chasny’s guitar improv, building a frantic atmosphere with just one acoustic guitar track and a bass drone. The epic “Sum of All Heaven” begins with a more traditionally psychedelic vocal passage, with repeated chants of “Into the sun” over what sounds like bowed guitar. In contrast to the bombast of most psychedelic rock, Chasny gradually removes elements of the song over 17 minutes, ending with a near-silent segment of distant guitar, low gongs, creaks, and chimes. “Shadow of a Dune,” with its backwards electric guitar leads, is probably the most traditionally “psychedelic” song on the album, but still demonstrates a precocious subtlety. “Harmonice Mundi II” is little more than a low throb, evoking the chants of Buddhist monks. The intense “Race for Vishnu” somehow translates classical Indian raga to the acoustic guitar, complete with resonant drones.
The two bonus tracks, “Invitation to the SR for Supper” and “Don’t Be Afraid,” are sonically similar to, but threaten to outshine, the album tracks. The former is an intriguing piece of minimalism, starting out pleasant but gradually becoming foreboding. The latter is another one of Chasny’s acoustic guitar improvs, but this time, he remembers to establish the melody before pulling out the stops.
Which points to the album’s primary foible: it’s a debut, and it shows. There are signs of brilliance in the delicate ambience of the pieces and the restraint Chasny generally shows in his songwriting. But a couple of the “songs” seem like little more than excuses for Chasny to show off his John Fahey emulation abilities, which is fine if you love Fahey, but the average listener may find the impressive techniques pointless. The shorter pieces (namely “Shadow of a Dune” and “Harmonice Mundi II”) are beautiful, but their brevity shades them as sketches of ideas rather than complete pieces. All of the elements responsible for the ascendance of Six Organs of Admittance are present, but on the majority of the tracks, they have yet to be pulled together into anything cohesive.
By Nick Ammerman