Ben Chasny Kills It on Six Organs’ Latest

His smoky guitar and driftwood vocals pull from American folk, Japanese music, raga, drone, Beat Zen, free jazz, and classic rock.

The first time I heard Six Organs of Admittance was so memorable I jotted down the following encapsulation in an old journal: "Last night, took Zach's advice and bought 6 Orgs' new one. Two sides of free-drone-psych-folk mellow melancholia. Makes me wanna run barefoot through the woods."

"Zach" was Zach Cowie, former publicist for Drag City, the label that had just released Six Organs' School of the Flower. He encouraged me to buy the album on vinyl, naturally, and it remains one of the warmest listening experiences in my collection. The record begins as a free-improv exercise that broods and whirls like a coastal storm ("Eighth Cognition"), only to bleed into a dewy folk number ("Words for Two"), which has the effect of rain lifting, clouds parting, and birds singing.

Admittedly, I was a latecomer to the Six Organs party. The real tapped-in folks had been listening to him since the late '90s. It was 2005 by the time I was turned on to it, so I made a rush to fill the gaps. Now, I look upon the eight Six Organs albums I own as one of the more solid chronologies of any contemporary artist.

When the new Six Organs of Admittance album, Shelter From the Ash, arrived in the mail, I took it home and played it alongside all the others. I did this to prove a theory: When listened to consecutively, these albums flow like a river, with little genre bends here and there. And between the darkness of 2006's The Sun Awakens and this year's Shelter, it's obvious that river has grown murky and turbulent.

Six Organs of Admittance is largely the work of one man, a Northern California native named Ben Chasny. (His early releases were mostly solo endeavors, but he's since invited members of Om, Sunburned Hand of Man, and Magik Markers to perform with him.) From the first release, Chasny's incense guitar and driftwood vocals were fully formed, pulling influence from American folk (John Fahey), Japanese music (Hiroyuki Usui), raga (Ravi Shankar), drone (Terry Riley), Beat Zen (Alan Watts' books), free jazz (Sun Ra), and classic rock (Blue Cheer).

Each successive album has amplified one of the above influences in some way. This, Chasny once told SF Weekly, is because Six Organs records are all largely improvised, and greatly affected by whatever he's preoccupied with at the time. Thus the Eastern influence all over Dust & Chimes, the lost-folk song structures on School of the Flower, and the 24-minute gloom-drone exercise closing out The Sun Awakens.

With Shelter From the Ash, Chasny picks up the gloomy spirit of The Sun Awakens for an album that is metaphorically covered in ash. Songs dance from Japanese avant-folk to scorching psychedelic pyrotechnics, as well as the slicing solos and warrior riffs of British metal. This last flavor is certainly new, but it works with the mood Chasny conjures.

The lyrics on Shelter suggest a nature ripped to shreds, with images of scarred paws, men who eat horses, and torn wings that won't grow back. There are allusions to people on the run from some ominous force, yet soaking up sweet pleasures while hiding in the shadows. The title track, which closes the album, suggests that the damage is ultimately done; the world is a damp, gray place, and humans have no choice but to "take shelter from the ash."

Because this material is being released while battles rage in Iraq, I'm sure some will peg it as Six Organs' "war album." However, I can't picture Chasny being glued to CNN. But I'm willing to bet that he read Cormac McCarthy's postapocalyptic novel, The Road, within the past year.

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