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Six Organs of Admittance, "Ascent"

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cover imageOn first blush, it's tempting to characterize Ascent as, for all intents, a brand new Comets on Fire record, or more specifically, as Ben Chasny fronting a Comets jam session. All the Comets guys are backing Chasny here, and the album was recorded live in the studio, like a true collaborative effort. But on further listening, it becomes clear that Ascent is Chasny's baby.

Drag City

Ascent - Six Organs of Admittance

Ascent has a spontaneous, organic quality that reminds me of some of the best live rock albums of decades past—Live Rust, Europe '72, and so forth. There's an ebb and flow to the sequencing that is key to its enjoyability, each track flowing into the next with common lyrical threads. Still, this is far from a Comets reunion: Chasny penned all the music and words himself (save for "Even If You Knew," which goes back roughly a decade to his membership in the Comets line-up). Chasny also takes care of all the lead guitar playing, while the backing instrumentation provides a foundation for him to unhinge and explore musically. (At least half of these tunes simply involve Comets setting up a groove while Chasny lays solo after blistering solo over the top, like an improvised live performance.) Opener "Waswasa" sets the tone early: it is both Ascent's heaviest song, nearly Sabbath-ian in its muscle, and its most propulsive. It doesn't quite unhinge into a sprawling, oscillating wash of sound like Comets' Field Recordings from the Sun, but I get the sense this is by design: less pure chaos, more musical variance, and flat-out better songs.

Musically, the lion's share of Ascent is the antithesis of last year's pastoral, mostly acoustic Asleep on the Floodplain, which is to say, psych guitar heaven—a glorious head trip through Chasny's fiery, unhinged playing. Two of the best songs are actually electric reconfigurations of Six Organs songs that appeared on a couple of Chasny's Holy Mountain records nearly a decade ago, which he has played live in various configurations over the years. "One Thousand Birds" originally closed 2002's Dark Noontide as an Eastern-tinged folk song, complete with its own face-melting guitar solo. On Ascent, the acoustic guitar riff at the song's core is picked up by a bass guitar, its tempo slowed; Chasny's soloing is more patient than in his youth, less a pistol duel than a pummeling 12 rounds in the ring. The real stunner, though, is "Close to the Sky," from 2003's Compathía, which shifts from pure acoustic to full-on psych guitar freakout, with Chasny meditatively intoning, "I never knew anything could exist without you," before his playing rockets into the stratosphere for a breathless five minutes of bliss.

Themes of outer space run through the album lyrically: every song mentions a variance of Earth, sky, sun, wind, dust, storms, blackness, deep space, or the void. Beneath the space analogies, Ascent seems to meditate frequently on loss or death, Chasny's voice passing through filters, reverb and echo, as if beamed in from Jupiter. There is one exception where Chasny and his backing band flip off their amplifiers: "Your Ghost" is his most yearning tune in some years, and one of his most straightforward musically. Chasny's acoustic picking is unadorned, less complex and Eastern-tinged than most anything from Asleep on the Floodplain, and leaves plenty of space for his words to make a gut-punch impression: "I was your voice, I was your light, I was your ghost," he reflects plaintively, repeating varinces on the phrase a few times, building its impact. Ultimately, "Your Ghost" is a three-minute reprieve before the fuzzed-out baseline of "Even If You Knew" charges onto the scene, and just like that, Ascent reverts back to distorted rock 'n' roll bliss.

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Last Updated on Monday, 03 September 2012 20:41  


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