Six Organs of Admittance, "Asleep on the Floodplain"

Saturday, 19 February 2011 21:00 Stephen Bush Reviews - Albums and Singles
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cover imagePsychedelic folk stalwart Ben Chasny's newest album speaks volumes through its packaging. Small observations hint at the nature of the music within: tranquil cover art picturing three hand-painted, mystic animal figures; a dedication to the late Dr. Ragtime in the liner notes; and the album's vivid title, Asleep on the Floodplain, referencing a peaceful state of rest and rejuvenation amidst a greater chaos.

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Six Organs of Admittance

Asleep on the Floodplain unfolds at a relaxed pace, never hurried. The album finds Chasny rekindling his fondness for the simple beauty of acoustic guitar—or perhaps deepening his love for it. Of ten songs, the majority center on Chasny's deft guitar playing: two were recorded on solo acoustic guitar with no overdubs; two feature acoustic guitar with harmonium overdubs; and five others utilize more varied instrumentation, but feature Chasny's guitar work at their core. Only half of the tracks feature vocals, some of which, such as Elisa Ambrogio's appearance on "River of My Youth," are wordless. The album was home-recorded over the course of three years, lending it an up-close-and-personal feel less emphasized on recent Six Organs efforts.

In short, the album is excellent—and it's a grower, understated at first blush, but revealing the depth of its charms with multiple listens. Whether it ranks with Chasny's best work is a difficult call because I'm hard pressed to find a weak leak in his discography–a favorite Six Organs album isn't a case of Chasny's having an obvious career highlight, but a personal preference for one of his many strong, varied records.

Asleep on the Floodplain is a departure from the scorched-earth doom of Shelter from the Ash, the deep psychedelic explorations of Luminous Night, and the sprawling free-psych of Rangda, Chasny's excellent collaboration with Sir Richard Bishop and Chris Corsano. Its overall mood is pastoral, meditative: Chasny sounds at peace with his muse, in harmony with (or perhaps disconnected from) the world around him. Of his past works, the primarily acoustic For Octavio Paz strikes me as similar, as well as his recent soundtrack work for Joseph Mattson's novel, Empty the Sun. Both of those are gorgeous records, and Asleep on the Floodplain plays similarly, spinning its mellow, Eastern-tinged improvisations and gentle psych-folk into a cohesive listen that is never lacking in inspiration.

My favorite moment—one which the subtle, restrained mood of the first seven tracks sets up masterfully—is "S/word and Leviathan," which breaks tone with the rest of the album, yet serves as its centerpiece and clear highlight. "S/word" begins with a simple, repetitive figure finger-picked on saz, which never lets up over 12 minutes and hundreds of quick repetitions, a buzzing drone rising in the background like a swarm of bees. As the saz playing is layered over itself and snowballs in its momentum, Chasny loops his spectral vocals and, eventually, a blistering psych-guitar burst into the mix. Taken in whole, "S/word and Leviathan" is stunning—the first piece of music I have heard this year that leaves me noticeably short of breath as it unfolds, raising my heart rate, transporting me to a different headspace at its peak. This is Chasny's best long-form composition since "River of Transfiguration," the LP side-length closer to 2005's underrated The Sun Awakens.

Asleep on the Floodplain finds Chasny confident in his playing and in fine form throughout. It is an enveloping listen, my favorite album of 2011 to date and a worthy addition to the Six Organs of Admittance catalog.

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Last Updated on Monday, 11 April 2011 13:41