Somber shadows

The blue side of Six Organs of Admittance
By SUSANNA BOLLE  |  January 22, 2008

VIDEO: Six Organs of Admittance, "Shelter from the Ash"

Ben Chasny, the creative force behind Six Organs of Admittance, has been tarred as “avant-folk,” but this guitarist is not so easily pigeonholed. A restless — and prolific — musician who tends to have a number of projects in the works, Chasny made his name playing intricately fingerpicked acoustic ragas, and he’s equally at home unleashing feverishly distorted mayhem. As Six Organs of Admittance, he not only wears influences like Bert Jansch, Peter Walker, and Leo Kottke on his sleeve, he also reveals a deep and abiding love for searing psychedelic freak-outs and thunderous metal drones.

Just now, Chasny is in the midst of a US tour that will bring him to town for two shows this week, Sunday at the Middle East upstairs and Monday at Tufts University. The sole constant in Six Organs is Chasny himself; this time around, the line-up is just Chasny and Elisa Ambrogio (of the Connecticut noise duo Magik Markers), both on electric guitar and vocals. This stripped-down Six Organs toured Europe last summer to much acclaim. “We had a really good time and it went really well,” he says by phone from California on the eve of the first show of the US tour. “It’s more like an avant-blues kind of thing when we both play electric guitar. Of course, blues — well, I use that term very loosely. It’s blues as in Loren Connors kind of blues.”

The newest Six Organs album, Shelter from the Ash (Drag City), is not a formal blues recording (avant or otherwise). But its lyrics — beautiful, dark tales of malevolence and melancholy — do cast a somber shadow. In spite of its bleak themes, the disc is also Chasny’s most polished and most tightly constructed recording. “I pretty much tortured everyone as much as possible with the last song on the previous record [The Sun Awakens], which was a 20-minute-long dronefest, so I thought I’d let people come up for air a little bit with some actual songs. Of course, I plan on smothering them again with the next record, with just a 40-minute-long drone. But before that, I thought I’d give them a little bit of relief!”

On the past recordings, song structures would evolve out of improvisation in the studio. This was the first time, Chasny says, that he recorded some four-track demos beforehand. “There was improvisation, but it was more improvisation with layering and the arrangements.”

The exception was the soaring title track, which is also the most concise and the catchiest song on the disc. “All I had was a riff, and I was just planning on doing a Dan Higgs ripoff,” Chasny says, referring to the strange and mysterious acid-rock shaman and lead singer of Lungfish. “The acoustic guitar by itself without all that other crap on top of it actually sounds like something from a Dan Higgs solo record. I just laid it down for four minutes, and then we built the song up over that. So that was the most improvised song, and yet it sounds like the poppiest and the most structured.”

SIX ORGANS OF ADMITTANCE + MICK TURNER + THALIA ZEDEK | Middle East upstairs, 472 Mass Ave, Cambridge | January 27 | 617.864.EAST | SIX ORGANS OF ADMITTANCE + MICK TURNER + ANIMAL HOSPITAL + RENATO MONTENEGRO | Oxfam Café at Miller Hall, Tufts University, 210 Packard Ave, Medford | January 28 | Free |

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