Usually you don’t think of Six Organs of Admittance – the syllabically and emotionally weighted psych/folk incarnation of Comets on Fire guitarist Ben Chasny — as music in which the listening experience is relative to volume. Go figure that after nigh on 15 years and more headphone-ready contemplations than I think anyone can reasonably be asked to count, Chasny would present a record like Ascent (Drag City), which more or less flies in the face of his usual methods. Have at you, expectations.
Space rocking, freaking out on psych jams and, yeah, even proffering a bit of that fleet-fingered acoustic work that’s made Six Organs sound rich even at Chasny‘s most minimal moments, Ascent teams the guitarist/vocalist with — wait for it — his own band. That’s right kids. Backing Chasny‘s classic space rock thrust on cuts like opener “Waswasa,” “One Thousand Birds” or the catchy and bass-heavy later cut “Even if You Knew” is none other than Comets on Fire. Seems superfluous to say the two entities work well together, since Chasny is also in that band, but the songs on Ascent flat out rule.
The last Six Organs record, 2011’s Asleep on the Floodplain (review here) was touching on a more cohesive psychedelic fascination, but it’s still a pretty big jump from that to the rolling vinyl-set groove of “One Thousand Birds.” A cut like “They Called You Near” (is that a Blazing Saddles reference?) mounts an atmospheric build of chorus vocals and surrounding drone, and the solo acoustic “Your Ghost” — at least conceptually — could have come off any album since 2005’s School of the Flower, but “Waswasa” is high-order heavy psych, and the shoe-gazing pastures of “Close to the Sky” keep a heady Dead Meadow-style sensibility to them that culminates in a swirling, cathartic-sounding solo. Even the dreamy closer “Visions (from Io)” is complete in a way Six Organs has shown little prior interest in being. Maybe it was something Chasny needed to get off his chest. What the fuck do I know.
However much of Ascent was captured live — obviously things like Chasny‘s multi-tracked vocals weren’t, but the instrumental jams easily could’ve been — it sounds vibrant and organic thanks at least in part to the production of The Fucking Champs‘ Tim Green, and the project’s long-heralded experimental penchant is presented clearly with varying underlying noises, drones, at time buried in the mix, at time consuming it, as with the rising electric solo to ultimate prominence in contrast to the acoustic beginnings of “Solar Ascent.” Ideas like that have been fair game for Six Organs for a while, but it’s the context that’s different, the full-band feel and what that full band is proffering that marks the change.
They’re touring the record, and though I’ve never seen Comets on Fire, I have caught Chasny as Six Organs before, and it should be interesting to see him as a “frontman” for a full band. In any case, with Ascent, he and his Comets cohorts have made a record distinct from either entity’s discography and yet inextricably part of both. Most importantly, the songs engage with the depth of melody that thankfully continues to typify Chasny‘s work in the band, and despite the boom in the accompaniment department, the music remains undeniably his own.Ascent, Ben Chasny, California, Comets on Fire, Drag City, Six Organs of Admittance, Six Organs of Admittance Ascent