Ben Chasny’s solo venture continues to tackle folk as if the 1970s never ended.
Martin Longley 2011-04-12
Ben Chasny is the artist otherwise known as Six Organs of Admittance, and the guitar is his principal instrument. Here, with Asleep on the Floodplain (his fifth LP for Drag City), he's in a mostly acoustic frame of mind, wielding an unplugged axe that's invariably so close-mic’d that the listener's head becomes almost trapped inside its sound chamber. These pieces were home-crafted, apparently leading to a life without pressure, as well as an extended gestation period. And it shows.
When Chasny's guitar is matched with a droning harmonium, the new/old folk renaissance has returned. There are resonances with the work of The Incredible String Band, Davey Graham and John Renbourn, with few concessions to present day updating; it’s as if the very early 1970s never departed. An exotic tinge pervades, with trimmings of Indian and Turkish folk music, all filtered through a British pastoral gauze. Yes, this Californian certainly sounds like an honorary Englishman.
Following the opening instrumental Above a Desert I've Never Seen, Chasny sings for Light of the Light. The textures grow thicker on Brilliant Blue Sea Between Us, all a-swirl with reverberating electric guitar. The album's overall development might be slow, but there's a marked ascension as it progresses. Chasny is contemplating carefully. His lead vocals rise slightly above the spume of his own massed backing voices, amidst phased ornamental clusters of guitar.
The tone suddenly darkens with River of My Youth, the clear mountain stream blackening. A faintly sinister chorus backs the split-voices of Chasny's lead lines, as the layered guitars continue their vibrating existence. Density increases once the 12-minute epic of S/Word and Leviathan gets underway, teasing with its oh-so-briefly scabbed-up electric guitar climax. There's a growling bass-drone undercurrent, a ghostly chorus, just discernible in the misty distance. Then, for the closing pair of tunes, nature returns to a restful state, and restfulness is found in nature.