Six Organs of Admittance has become a name you can trust in the verdant field of freak folk. Primarily the nom de musique of Seattle transplant Ben Chasny, who recently moved here from Northern California, where he also played guitar for stormy psychonauts Comets on Fire, Six Organs deserves the acclaim he's received. Over the last decade, Chasny has prolifically and consistently issued Six Organs albums that honor the tradition of folk-music savants such as John Fahey, Sandy Bull, Robbie Basho, Roy Harper, Tyrannosaurus Rex, and Popol Vuh, while adding his own distinctive strands to the art form's rich tapestry.
(Some cite Six Organs as part of the "New Weird America," a musical movement coined by the British magazine Wire, but try to find any such artist who will cop to that term. In a nutshell, though, New Weird America encompasses a broad swath of contemporary musicians who often delve into mystical/pagan realms of creation in order to alter/blow minds—and make people chatter ad nauseam on internet discussion forums.)
In a 2004 interview for The Stranger, Chasny told me, "I originally started [making music] because I would order records, and... they were never quite as psychedelic or freaked out as I had hoped. [So] I decided to just make the freaked-out record that I wanted to hear."
That he has done, with results that have elevated him to the summit of the avant-folk heap. A sterling example of the sort of "freaked-out record" Chasny yearned to create is represented on RTZ (Drag City, out January 20), a collection of archival Six Organs material from scattered limited-edition releases recorded on a Tascam cassette four-track. RTZ serves as a boon to Six Organs fans, who would've had to pay huge sums for the originals—provided they could even find them.
The double disc consists of five lengthy suitelike tracks—actually more like rituals than songs to sing 'round the campfire, though you could do that, too, with some peyote party favors. "Resurrection" (originally released as a split 12-inch with Charalambides in 2000) rambles at an easygoing gait, punctuated by Chasny's hushed, hymnal orations. His voice resembles Marc Bolan's, but with the '70s glam-pop exuberance muted to shivery stage whisper. "Everything has burned/Everything is resurrected," he repeats as if in a trance, as his acoustic guitar gyres behind him and a seashell roar (or is it massed monk chants?) seeps into the mix. It later morphs into something akin to the soundtrack to an exotic northern African reverie before shifting into a spare, meditative acoustic passage.
"Warm Earth, Which I've Been Told" (originally released in 2003 as a split CD with Vibracathedral Orchestra and Magic Carpathians) finds Chasny peeling off chiming guitar leads, which are buttressed, then usurped, by faint, pathos-laden organ drones and the metallic scrapes of a gamelan gone awry. Near the end, Chasny delivers some of his most affecting wordless vocals, at once angelic and portentous—reminiscent of the score to Alejandro Jodorowsky's The Holy Mountain, specifically of Don Cherry's resonant hums.
"You Can Always See the Sun" (originally released in 2002 by Three Lobed Recordings) begins like a sacred ceremony in a Southeast Asian village whose name you can't pronounce, before some utterly gorgeous acoustic guitar picking enters, transporting things to a place where the Appalachians spiritually meet the Himalayans. Yes, it's that lofty. Chasny again layers solemn vocals over the celestial instrumentation with milk-and-honey soothingness. Think the ending of the Byrds' "Eight Miles High," but more blissful. "Punish the Chasms with Wings" (previously unreleased, recorded between 1998 and 2001) is a more tormented affair, with its anguished and madly distorted electric guitar spiraling into the middle distance before entering an eerily quiet interlude of generator hum and distant susurrations. The track concludes with a Gypsy-dervish flourish of acoustic-guitar mesmerism.
"Nightly Trembling" (originally a limited-edition 1999 LP) captures Chasny in the kind of sublimely stoic and stately form that makes it apparent why his music attracted the attention of excellent head-friendly labels like Holy Mountain and Drag City.
As sweet as RTZ is, it'd probably not be the ideal place for the novice to dip his or her ears into Six Organs's ocean of sound. For that, try 2005's School of the Flower. Featuring improv genius Chris Corsano on drums, percussion, and organ, the disc radiates a dark beauty and includes a reverent, gorgeous cover of Gary Higgins's folk-rock classic "Thicker Than a Smokey." But it's the title track (influenced by Terry Riley and John Cale's 1971 Church of Anthrax LP) that really rivets: a 13- minute mantra of distant, rolling drum thunder and two interwoven cyclical acoustic motifs that serve as the calm amid Corsano's inventive percussive turbulence. As compelling as Chasny is as a soloist (or in tandem in recent live settings with Magik Markers guitarist Elisa Ambrogio), his interaction with Corsano makes one wish he would employ percussive propulsion more often.
Nevertheless, Chasny's voluminous Six Organs catalog reaffirms that folk music is a living organism, not a museum exhibit. Long may he ramble.