Live Review: Six Organs of Admittance and Major Stars in Boston, 11.30.12

Posted in Reviews on December 4th, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster

In light of the fact that we’ll be moving there at some point within the next eight months, The Patient Mrs. and I decided to head up to Massachusetts this past weekend. She got a job at a university in Bridgewater and I’d never seen the town, and well, if I’m gonna live there it made sense to have a look. Since going to shows is a big part of what I do with my time, it also made sense to check out Six Organs of Admittance at the Brighton Music Hall in Boston, about half an hour away. The whole thing was very sensible.

The theory was it’s not like I’m going to stop seeing bands, it’s just that the places I’ll be seeing them will be different. A different scene. That’s okay though. I’ve heard Boston is very welcoming to outsiders. Ha.

Helping ease my transition was the simple fact that the joint Ben Chasny and his East Coast cohorts in Six Organs of Admittance – on the West Coast, he reportedly played with members of his other band, Comets on Fire, but no dice for the Eastern run — was called the Brighton. I couldn’t help but be immediately comfortable in a place that shared its name with the Brighton Bar in Long Branch, NJ, where I’ve seen (and played) more shows than I have time to sit and remember. Several cans of Sapporo and the company of The Patient Mrs.herself may also have helped. Nothing to be terrified of here.

Opening act Major Stars were on when I got there. The band is local to Boston but Drag City labelmates with Six Organs, once did a split with Comets on Fire and a bit given to the driving psychedelic swirl that also provides the pulse of Six Organs‘ latest album, Ascent (review here), so if nothing else, they made sense on the two-band bill. Frontwoman Hayley Thompson-King won the prize for tightest leather pants of the evening — I didn’t even know there was a contest and so had left my own at the hotel — and guitarists Wayne Rogers, Kate Biggar and Tom Leonard provided ample churn behind her chic-but-more-than-capable croon.

They rode the line between heavy psych and indie pretty hard, but the three guitars had distinct tones among them and that added a level of interest in watching them on stage with no prior listening experience. Rogers walked back and forth in a way that was almost hypnotic, and Biggar‘s instrument was gorgeous in a museum-quality sense. Bassist Dave Dougan and drummer Casey Keenan had their work cut out for them in holding the varied assault together, but ultimately, they were up to it. Keenan would wind up pulling double-duty in Six Organs as well, and he did so having already made a positive impression on the crowd, which seemed much more familiar with Major Stars‘ work than I could claim to be.

As regards Six Organs of Admittance, they were just what I was looking for. I’d just spent about five hours on the road to Boston and, only the night before, had driven to and from Philadelphia to catch High on Fire (review here). To hit two shows in a row is one thing, but to do it one city to the next is another. But Chasny, electric guitar in tow — this was the first time I’ve seen him play electric, which he did neither at Roadburn 2009 nor at that awful night in Brooklyn — along with Keenan, second guitarist John Shaw of Magik Markers and bassist Andrew Mitchell (who formerly accompanied Chasny on live guitar), opened with the driving jam “Waswasa” from Ascent, which was consuming in its frenetic freakout from the word go.

Being the only material put together with a full band in mind, where prior Six Organs outings were Chasny solo affairs with periodic guest spots, Ascent obviously featured heavily in the set. Fine by me, since despite bitching about the cash I shelled out for it, I actually quite enjoyed the album. Mitchell‘s fuzzy bass on “One Thousand Birds” — which Chasny joked was about “a hundred birds” — was a highlight, and for someone who’s been so subdued every other time I’ve seen him on stage, Chasny tore into his many solos, leaving Shaw to cover the rhythms while he proffered a swaggering mastery straight out of classic rock. It was a long way from Compathia, but damn if it wasn’t a good time.

The moods varied throughout from bombastic chaos to Dead Meadow-style shoegazing psych, but Six Organs kept a firm grip no matter how far out they went either way, the insistent rhythm and tossed-off sounding verses of “Even if You Knew” standing out as particularly vivid. When they wanted to be, they were raucously heavy in a psych sense — that’s to say, not beholden to tonal thickness — but there was no ideological genre allegiance, and so they were free stylistically to roam as they pleased. At the end of the set, Chasny came back out and did a couple songs solo. It felt a little perfunctory, which I chalked up to residual adrenaline from the full set prior and a conscious shift from one modus to the other. I’ve never gone from playing psychedelic freak rock to quiet, intimate folk, but I can imagine it’s not as easy as flipping a switch. He seemed a bit like he was reminding himself to slow down.

Nonetheless, the glimpse at the “usual” Six Organs of Admittance methodology was welcome, if only as it provided contrast to what Chasny has done with the project on Ascent and by extension with this tour. Boston was the first night, but if there were more than one or two hiccups, I didn’t notice. The band seemed to operate smoothly, Keenan‘s drumming fluid with the two guitars and bass, and Chasny took well to the frontman role, his presence on stage only enhanced by the unhindered conviction with which he delivered the material.

If this was my first show in Boston attended while also thinking about the city on some kind of residential level, I couldn’t have really asked for more than I got. The Patient Mrs. and I cabbed it back to the hotel, I took the dog out — my dog is so housebroken that your dog is embarrassed about it, and rightly so — and we crashed. Saturday was to be spent looking at houses down in Bridgewater, and it wouldn’t have done to sleep through such things.

Extra pics after the jump.

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At a Glance: Six Organs of Admittance, Ascent

Posted in Reviews on November 16th, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster

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 ChampsTim 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.

Six Organs of Admittance’s website

Drag City

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Six Organs of Admittance, Asleep on the Floodplain: To Wake up Underwater

Posted in Reviews on January 31st, 2011 by H.P. Taskmaster

If the Wikipedia count is to be believed, then including 7”s, EPs, full-length albums and the occasional limited-to-100-copies CDR, Asleep on the Floodplain (Drag City) is the 25th release from Six Organs of Admittance. Starting with 1998’s self-titled and weaving his way through a number of multi-album experiments and sonic phases, Californian singer/songwriter Ben Chasny (also of Comets on Fire) has kept a base of neo-folk and acoustic guitar across the Six Organs of Admittance discography, and on the latest, he scales back some of the fuller sounds of his previous album, Luminous Night, and returns to the home-based recording style of records like 2003’s Compathia. The main difference is the growth the ensuing eight years has brought about and Chasny’s depth of melodic range. In atmosphere, despite a contribution from Elisa Ambrogio on “River of My Youth” and some natural-sounding drones accompanying electric strums on “Brilliant Blue Sea Between Us,” Asleep on the Floodplain is lonely. Not empty, and not Chasny‘s most minimal work, but very solo sounding.

The album opens instrumentally with “Above a Desert I’ve Never Seen,” displaying immediately one of Chasny’s greatest strengths in its lyrical guitar lines. He doesn’t use guitar to substitute for vocals where there aren’t any, instead capturing a listener’s attention in a completely different way. His deft fingering has always made Six Organs of Admittance stand out, and that carries over to Asleep on the Floodplain. “Light of the Light” is a shorter, vocal song with a memorable melody that leads well into “Brilliant Blue Sea Between Us.” That three of the first four tracks on the album are instrumental should say something about Chasny’s focus, but the actual feel of Asleep on the Floodplain is so smooth-running that the water-based thematics come off as all the more appropriate. The title of the album, “Brilliant Blue Sea Between Us,” “Saint of Fishermen” and “River of My Youth” all contain some reference to water, and the flow of the songs speaks to that being on purpose. Could just as easily be me reading into it, but the transitions between instrumentals that leads into “Hold but Let Go” – the centerpiece and highlight cut for those craving vocals and structure – is soothing no matter what images you want to place over-top.

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What to Look Forward to in 2011, Pt. 1: The Sure Bets

Posted in Features on January 17th, 2011 by H.P. Taskmaster

I’d have done a 2011 list earlier, but honestly, after the massiveness that was the top 20 countdown, I needed a break from all the list-type stuff. Next thing I knew, January was more than halfway over and no predictions had yet been made about what some of the best things to come would be. Just shameful.

This is just going to be a two-parter, and I’m keeping it to five albums on each list for a total of 10 records to look forward to in 2011. If that’s not enough for you, well, stay tuned, because I’m sure there’s going to be plenty more than 10 reviews posted this year. Hell, I think there already have been, so there you go.

The reason these are “the sure bets” is because I’ve already heard them and know they rule. Let’s get to it:

Lo-Pan, Salvador: The Ohio four-piece’s Small Stone label debut full-length has “classic” written all over it. I heard some rough mixes back in December and I’ve heard some less-rough mixes now, and I honestly haven’t felt this way about a straightforward stoner rock record since I heard the first Sasquatch album in 2004. The songwriting is brilliant, the performances masterful and the production stellar. You’re gonna shit when you hear “Chichen Itza” and “Deciduous.”

Crowbar, Sever the Wicked Hand: It’s kind of funny, but Crowbar influenced a whole younger generation of bands and on Sever the Wicked Hand, it sounds like that younger generation has re-influenced Crowbar, or at least reminded them of what they do best. Some of the material on Sever the Wicked Hand is a little fast, but there are some real quality tracks, and at this point it’s been so long I’m just glad they have a new record out.

Earth, Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light I: Part one in a series of two new works by Earth , Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light I (review here) brings cello accompaniment to Dylan Carlson‘s trademark drone guitar, filling out the sound with a subtle and melodic lushness it’s never before had. Earth are never going to be for everyone, but their latest should delight longtime fans and catch a couple newcomers as well.

Weedeater, Jason… the Dragon: Sludge meets swampy Southern blues on the latest record from the North Carolinian outfit which, like Earth, will be released via Southern Lord in March. Their sound is as nasty as ever, but there’s evidence of stylistic branching out in songs like “Homecoming” and “Palms of Opium,” and it’s exciting to hear the band trying new things, especially when they work. Full review is here.

Six Organs of Admittance, Asleep on the Floodplain: I’ve been a nerd for this Ben Chasny solo project for a number of years now, and on his new record, which is due out on Drag City on Feb. 22, the Comets on Fire guitarist does away with some of the psychedelic and/or droning aspects of the last couple albums in favor of a return to acoustic solo-songwriter material. Translation: He’s right in his element. More to come.

Tomorrow we’ll do Pt. 2, which will be full of pure speculation, and thus a lot of fun.

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New Six Organs of Admittance Due in February

Posted in Whathaveyou on December 14th, 2010 by H.P. Taskmaster

Drag City has news about the new record from neo-folk outfit, Six Organs of Admittance, otherwise known as guitarist/vocalist Ben Chasny (Comets on Fire) and friends. The album, to be titled Asleep on the Floodplain, follows last year’s Luminous Night and is definitely something to look forward to in the New Year.

The label sent this down the PR wire:

Comprised of 10 blissful, primarily acoustic tunes, a delicacy wafts forth from Asleep on the Floodplain, the new album by Six Organs of Admittance. After 2009’s sonically dense Luminous Night, Chasny returned to the familiar environs of home recording to sculpt and assemble this batch of jams, freeing himself from the restrictions and deadlines studios might normally impose upon a song. Thus creating a living nest in which this material could grow and breathe, the album took longer to complete but sounds effortless– and bright with light. Much of Asleep on the Floodplain draws on imagery from Chasny‘s youth, a time spent in Elk River. “Dawn, Running Home” remembers sleep-overs in a friend’s tree-fort and the subsequent morning return to Ben’s own house. Maintaining Six Organs‘ penchant for cameos, Elisa Ambrogio magik-ally contributes to “River of My Youth.” The theopoetics of Catherine Keller resonate on “S/Word and Leviathan”; while Gaston Bachelard‘s poetics of reverie are felt throughout the record.

Working alone allowed for what could be described as a more cohesive album, giving Chasny time to reflect and make his own conclusions about how a song should move, or when it was finished, in his own time. To that end, each song is memorable of it’s own volition, yet drifts as necessary onto the common plane of Asleep on the Floodplain. Six Organs of Admittance has completed a new album, and we wish to share it with you so that you, in turn, will share it with others. Allow the comfort of beasts, Asleep on the Floodplain.

Asleep on the Floodplain tracklisting:

1. Above a Desert I’ve Never Seen
2. Light of the Light
3. Brilliant Blue Sea Between Us
4. Saint of Fishermen
5. Hold but Let Go
6. River of My Youth
7. Poppies
8. S/Word and Leviathan
9. A New Name on an Old Cement Bridge
10. Dawn, Running Home

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Live Review: Om, Six Organs of Admittance and Naam in Brooklyn, 10.11.09

Posted in Reviews on October 13th, 2009 by H.P. Taskmaster

Six Organs of Admittance plus Andrew (Photo by Fernanda Correia)A short while after his set was over, I found Six Organs of Admittance?s Ben Chasny at the bar sitting next to the figure announced to the crowd as Andrew when he had taken the stage. ?This is my friend Andrew,? Chasny had said. Fair enough.

I had spent the better part of the Six Organs set cursing out, both inwardly and outwardly, the crowd surrounding, whose rude, self-important chatter had ruined the whole thing. Fucking hipsters. When I ran into Chasny at the bar — I?d gone looking for another beer — I told him how fucking ridiculous the asshole factor had been and how I?d seen his Naam (Photo by Fernanda Correia)Roadburn set and basically that Brooklyn could suck my balls. Already well liquored up, I?ve no delusions that it was received as eloquent.

Prior, about five minutes into the show, I had sent a text message to The Patient Mrs., who was having a sandwich and watching the playoffs at another bar down the street, that said I might have no recourse but to get plastered, such was the level of recession-proof pose out beardo hipster douchery surrounding. I?d arrived at Europa about 30 seconds into the recently interviewed Naam?s first song, and the crowd only got worse as the night wore on. Nothing to do but get drunk.

?Please don?t. We?re broke.? was the message I got back. Sorry baby.

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Late Night New Music: Six Organs of Admittance, “The Ballad of Charley Harper”

Posted in Whathaveyou on July 23rd, 2009 by H.P. Taskmaster

Like one of those mysteriously backlit scenes from the X-Files. Always wondered what made those trees glow in the dark.Was doing some post-midnight lurking on the online, figured I’d share this mp3 posted by Drag City of the song “The Ballad of Charley Harper” by Comets on Fire guitarist Ben Chasny‘s Six Organs of Admittance, who blew my fucking mind at Roadburn when he broke out “Hum a Silent Prayer” from 2003’s Compathia. “The Ballad of Charley Harper” comes off his new album, Luminous Night, which is out on Drag City August 18. I wanna be friends with it.

http://www.dragcity.com/mp3/SixOrgans_BalladofCharleyHarper.mp3

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