Six Organs of Admittance play Bush Hall up west tomorrow night (Friday 4th) and Ben Chasny is sure to make some beautiful searching noise up on that dog gone stage. Go see, ya hear? And read my review of their last album, posted on The Quietus a bit ago... damn, need to post more on here.
Six Organs Of Admittance
Luminous Night Tim Burrows , August 20th, 2009 08:20
The last record put out by Six Organs of Admittance, Shelter From the Ash, was an ominous, powerful, sprawling LP which took hold of the listener following repeated listens. It buffed up Ben Chasny's noise-folk style — too much for some people's liking. Pitchfork, in particular, smelt a rat: 'Here, Six Organs is doing for psychedelic folk what Jackson Browne and the Eagles did for pop-reared folk-rock,' wrote Grayson Currin, 'hybridizing polished, perfected takes on touchstones into a safe-for-anyone alloy.'
If that was polished, then eleventh album Luminous Night is a widescreen epic complete with surround sound. Inspired by Kurosawa soundtacks, it has an expansive cinematic feel, as Ben Chasny carries on the project started with the last album.
On Shelter, Chasny's weary tones were perfectly offset by his partner Elisa Ambrogio of Magik Markers; this combination was one of the album's highlights. Yet, aside for a credit on the artwork, Ambrogio is absent here. While their partnership worked well, breaking away has helped give this record focus; there were times during the last that they seemed lost in a confusing expanse — indeed that was part of the appeal. Here, though, there is a balance between highs and lows that plots a more extreme and satisfying trajectory.
The most optimistic track, 'Cover Your Wounds With The Sky' — a freeform, minimalist dirge based around the noise a four-track cassette makes after it had been buried in sodden earth in Seattle — is followed by 'Ursa Minor', a song that spins 180 degrees toward sheer desperation. 'We took a train last week,' Chasny intones, 'but the trains don't run no more'. The situation becomes terminal as the song progresses: people are dying, there is only a month's worth of food left; he 'thought about tomorrow and locked the door'.
The song evokes Cormac McCarthy's too-close-for comfort prediction of a desolate future, The Road. The ash motif in the last album follows this same logic, as do the videos that accompanied 'Goodnight' and the eponymous track from Shelter from the Ash which could have been made to accompany the book.
If Chasny is a follower of 'Cormac McCarthyism' — as Oprah Winfrey put it — it is the stillness of form, the divinity in simplicity, that connects them. McCarthy famously eschews punctuation aside from the full stop and colon, preferring to let the words do the work. You could see the Six Organs method to making music in a similar way: methodical, studious, but never cold or cynical. It is an approach born out of humanity, a fascination with the big questions. One sentence in The Road, referred to by Oprah, sums up McCarthy's style best: 'If he is not the word of God God never spoke.' That line could easily be slotted into most of the songs on Luminous Night.
There is, of course, some fantastic guitar-work at the heart of this album but, intriguingly, is it's no longer the focal point. Chasny recently hinted a move away from guitar, to avoid the inevitable ego-masturbation that comes with concentrating on one's axe. It means his creations can grow, become whole.
The flutes of Hans Teuber and tabla played by Tor Dietrichson contemplate Eastern promise on 'Bar Nasha', and it's in that direction that Chasny often ventures for inspiration. The album's title is borrowed from the Kuwaiti spiritual scholar A.H. Almaas's autobiographical study of Being, Luminous Night's Journey. In the same way, Chasny used the title of Henry Corbin's meditation on the sacred in Islam for the title of the opening track on the previous LP, 'Alone With the Alone'. He is a seeker by nature, searching for answers, clues to the human condition.
That Chasny is always studying in this way is what makes Six Organs tick. It has resulted in his most clear-eyed, metaphysical exploration yet, as well as — thanks also to wonder-producer Randall Dunn — some of the best noise released this year. This is music for our age: playful yet serious, and not afraid of exploring Big Ideas, or presenting grim outcomes, in a way people can understand.
Thursday, 3 December 2009
Thursday, 22 October 2009
AGONY & ECSTASY: TRAILER TRASH TRACYS
Dazed & Confused, October 2009
Ever got the bus through south London’s notorious Elephant and Castle at night? As you swoop past the intermittent lights that shine out of greying estates earmarked for demolition, you cannot help but marvel at the scale of this very public heartbreak. Jimmy Lee, one half of duo Trailer Trash Tracys, resides in the area – in the shittest council flat you are likely to see,” he says. “But it means I get a three-bedroom flat to myself for £200 a month.”
TTT make songs that seem like epic siren calls in this doomed night. At the root of them is the yearning 80s balladry of bands such as Berlin and Cocteau Twins. Swedish émigré Suzanne Aztoria’s vocals float and crackle like static ghosts over gorgeous songs that quiver under the weight of reverb. New Single “Candy Girl” articulates, among other things, the wooziness of coming down; the failure of modernism; the pain of leaving. Yet it is no miserable anthem. Above all, the song is soaked in the possibility of beauty rising out of desolation.
The pair started working together when they were both in a manufactured pop band. “We were in the indie version of Girls Aloud,” says Susanne. “We were in the middle of a contradiction,” adds Jimmy. “Sounding like the Jesus & Mary Chain, but having these pop songs to play. Needless to say, it didn’t work out.”
Something of the JMC stuck though – the nocturnal lushness that ignited the shoegaze scene, as well as Bobby Gillespie’s “boom, boom-boom, bap” drum style, pinched in turn off Phil Spector. “We can see why people would call it shoegaze, as we use a lot of reverb and other effects,” says Susanne. “But I don’t think it is as simple as that. It is really important for us that they are good songs.”
To say that their music is a passion for both might be to underplay it. “We do meet up a lot to write, record and rehearse,” Susanne attests. “We are kind of perfectionists, so a song has to be completely right for us to be happy with it.”
Yet obsession often leads to pain, and going over and over songs in his south London flat might be getting to Jimmy. “Since starting this band, I have been caught talking to myself,” he confesses. “That’s no bullshit, I don’t even realise.”
Tuesday, 20 October 2009
With his scarred face, languorous delivery and fondness for booze, the late German-American writer Charles Bukowski perfected a template for the skid-row lowlife. Some might consider him a Beat poet, but he doesn't quite fit with the expansive joie de vivre of it all. While Kerouac went out on the road to seek enlightenment, Bukowski left home because there was no place else to go.
He stayed in motels and flophouses. Drank alone with the blinds pulled down, while Beethoven and Brahms blasted out of a transistor radio. In Philadelphia, he spent two-and-a-half years in a bar, fighting the landlord and running errands in exchange for free beer. Yet, with a bit of help from John Fante, the novelist who gave him his plain talkin' style, he defined the American underclass in his novels and poems, as he set about putting his experiences down on paper.
Bukowski's Los Angeles could be seen as the inverse companion of David Lynch's. While the movies are surreal explorations of the darkness behind the scenes of LA's rich, Bukowski breathed beer-stained life into autobiographical stories about the nobodies who posted their mail and packaged their meat in warehouses. Yet during the '80s he befriended the Hollywood elite, hanging out with Sean Penn and Madonna and writing a book based on his experiences: Hollywood. He had contempt for the fakes, once telling the future Governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger, that he was 'a piece of shit'.
He was flawed: he womanised; he gambled; he drank - a lot. His fondness for the bottle came, he said, to avoid committing suicide. Throughout his life the abiding influence on his writing was the incredible cruelty he suffered as a child: his father converted the bathroom into a torture chamber in which he would belt him until welts and bruises covered the young Bukowski's body, his mother looking on. Consequently his writing embodied his disgust with hollow men who, like his father, exerted power over those below them simply because they could.
Inflated pride thrives on cheap brutality, and Bukowski knew it. But for all his nihilism, he was never cruel, just honest. Today, in London streets that reek of LA ersatz-ness, we could all do with a bit more of that.