Six Organs of Admittance - The Sun Awakens (Drag City LP)
Those with the best record collections often make the best music. At least, that's what I've found. And I've never been down in Six Organs of Admittance ringleader Ben Chasny's basement, but I'm willing to bet it's quite the sight to behold. And how could it not be? Every time I turn around Chasny is championing some forgotten 60's psychedelic jewel that turns out to be everything I could've hoped for and more...or he's championing (or playing with) some modern day psych outfit that flew in under my radar but sooner or later would wind up to be amongst my favorite bands. Strange then, that I never got into the man's work that much. In fact, I arrived to the party way late, with my first dosage of Six Organs coming in the form of last year's "School of the Flower" which was a nice enough record but didn't tickle my gonads in all the ways I'd hoped it would. So in the year between I've been boning up on all of Chasny's influences that may have passed me by the first time around, getting ready for the time our figurative paths would cross again. And eventually they did, with the release of "The Sun Awakens". I don't know what it is - if I'm more educated now and can appreciate the music more, or if it just happened to hit a sweet spot when I first laid it out on the turntable deck. Regardless, this album fucking destroys. It's like Chaz (what we call him down at the station*) combined all those great records I'd been catching up on into this 45-minute "chef d'oeuvre". Yes there's Fahey and Basho and Connors. Yes there's old private-press weirdness: Gary Higgins, Michael Yonkers, Mark Tucker, Simon Finn, Vashti Bunyan. Yes there's all the 60's/70's cult psych bands Galactic Zoo Dossier hipped us to in recent days. But it's all filtered magnificently though Ben Chasny's wondrous new-folk new-psych vision, which truly sets it apart from the rest of this jam band freakout revival we're going through.
Like the most classic psych albums of their day, "The Sun Awakens" followed the tried-and-tested formula of short songs on the A side/side-long jam on the flip. First up is the brief acoustic/percussion intro "Torn by Wolves", which helps set the stage for the whole dusty slowed-folk Eastern-tinged mood about the album. After that comes probably the best song (as in, Song) I've heard all year, "Bless Your Blood". It's dark, seedy, desperate, wheezing, and strikingly beautiful all at once. Chasny's acoustic guitar swells and deflates seamlessly around your ears while Chasny's Comets on Fire teammate Noel Von Harmonson adds some delicately cascading drums to anchor the tune. John Connell also works the Persian flute. The highlight of the song by far are Chasny's breathless, mumbled vocals which he now seems comfortable enough with to place at the forefront. All the better.
"Black Wall" is a touch more upbeat than its predecessor, with Chasny singing in the same style only around the upper register. The first half of the track is all acoustic but is joined in due time by a strung-out electric, completely sun-roasting the plains of yellow grass the group had been previously working on. Next are a couple of 3-minute jaunts starting with the even-more chipper "The Desert is a Circle". The sounds are not at all unlike Chasny's guitar-folk contemporary Jack Rose playing through heavy effects and echoes. "Attar" is the other one of the couplet, kind of like the more sinister sister to "Desert". There's a spiraling electric guitar on this track, like being sucked out the country house by a tornado. "Wolves' Pup" closes out the side and it's a solo acoustic take on the line from the album's intro. It, like the intro, clocks in at under two minutes.
"River of Transfiguration" occupies the B side's turf. It's everything you want from a Six Organs side-long jammer and more. Chasny tries out some earth-defining vocal intonation (accompanied by Al Cisneros of OM, also playing bass) as well as playing guitar, organ, gong and tone generators. There's some sparse, jittery drumming from Von Hormonson that recalls Chris Corsano, a previous drummer under the Six Organs banner. It all adds up to an incredible soupy zoned-out excursion. Kinda like Sunburned Hand of the Man adding their own spritz to songs from Earth's most recent studio album with the Forever Bad Blues Band in tow. I feel like the tornado from "Desert" has kerplunked me right into a warm, warm river and the current's carrying me way off to faraway lands...then lying on the shore I wash up on to be dried out by the rays of the sun. Incredible.
I was told this album was sonically similar to previous Six Organs efforts "Dust & Chimes" and "Dark Noontide". It's got plenty of the atmosphere dredged up from the former, minus all the mini-ragas, if you can imagine. It's definitely similar to the latter but even more polished, mature. Those with the best record collections can make the best music, but the trick is to not sound like any single one of those thousands of discs - rather, to sound like all of them ingested and projected outwardly again. Ben Chasny on this disc has, in my opinion, done it quite like no one else has in the longest time. Album of the year?
(*there is no station and I have never met the man)