Something of a Robbie Basho binge in the office this morning reminded me that I’ve been sleeping on this Six Organs Of Admittance album for a few weeks now. Ben Chasny has been one of the most interesting players on the New Weird American psych/folk scene (or whatever you want to call it; chances are Chasny will try and wriggle free of any glib categories anyhow) for a few years now.
Now Comets On Fire have split/are on hiatus, I guess that’s one less project to distract Chasny from his solo work as Six Organs, though given this is about his ninth full-length in less than a decade, extra-curricular activities are hardly ruining his productivity. In fact, the wise, clubbable and endlessly enthusiastic Chasny is one of those musicians who clearly thrives on mixing with a revolving cast of collaborators; there’s always someone new with a fresh perspective, or an arcane musical text to obsess over.
One of the key players on “Shelter From The Ash” is the mighty Elisa Ambrogio from Magik Markers, whose last album, “Boss”, I raved about at length here. The last time Six Organs played London, they came as a duo of Chasny and Ambrogio, and their erotically-charged guitar face-offs suggested “Shelter” would be a more fractious affair than some of its predecessors, privileging Chasny’s interest in fierce avant-skronk as much as his nuanced, Takoma-ish fingerpicking.
You get a glimpse of that on the lovely “Strangled Road”, when a hushed duet between the couple and some lovely acoustic support from Matt Sweeney is riven apart by a harrowing, if relatively restrained, electric solo by Ambrogio. In general, though, the basic vibe is consistent with many of Chasny’s previous records: pensive, crepuscular, intricate, so that the rippling instrumental “Goddess Atonement” (maybe the track that stimulated the leap from Basho to here) is one of the best he’s ever recorded.
I’d be hard-pushed to call much of it folk, mind. Stuff like last year’s “The Sun Awakens” brought the heaviness by mixing up the brackish jams with some vast drones. But “Shelter From The Ash” has a fractionally heavier rock sound. On “Coming To Get You”, another ripping Ambrogio solo arrives amidst Chasny’s meticulously constructed crank, twang and molten hum, and some menacing patter from fellow Comets alumnus Noel Harmonson. It rocks, crudely.
Chasny’s vocals are getting more incantatory too, maybe betraying the intonations of David Tibet in another band that Chasny guests in, Current 93. You can hear it on “Final Wing”, an awesome, mantric piece built around a repeating guitar figure which generates a kind of cumulative dread comparable to something like those Om pieces I wrote about the other week (Om have been recent playmates of Tibet, too, unsurprisingly). Current 93 are occasionally described as “Apocalyptic folk”, which often seems like a fancy name for intellectualised acoustic goth to me. This, though, makes the concept seem appealing: downhome doom, more or less.