by Kat Harding (@iwearaviators)
When everything seems to be in turmoil, it’s easy to gravitate to music that reflects that feeling. We’re angry; let’s listen to loud, angry, wailing, thrashing music to sing, cry, sweat out our fears. But at the other end of the spectrum, sometimes you need to escape completely, into something the opposite of how you’re feeling; for that, you should turn to Six Organs of Admittance’s newest, Burning the Threshold. Released in February 2017 on Drag City, Ben Chasny has teamed up with well-known guitarists and other folk heroes to deliver a mostly calming and contemplative album.
Inspired by “birds in the morning, anarchy, Third Ear Band, Ronnie Lane and/or The Faces...and a HELL of a lot more than that,” the album is an incredible avant-folk work that brings in Alex Nielsen, Circuit Des Yeux’s Haley Fohr, Damon and Naomi, Chris Corsano on drums, Bitchin Baja’s Cooper Crain on piano and mixing, and even a guitar duet with Ryley Walker. His website has a photo of the shed the acoustic guitar was recorded in, a setting sunbeam glinting through a window and lighting the building as it stands surrounded by a low stone wall and lush trees. If there was ever the perfect spot to have made this album, that shed is it. Album opener “Things As They Are,” based on the life of poet Wallace Stevens, was born out a soon-to-be-released theatrical work about Steven’s life Chasny was working on. It’s a gentle track that weaves in and out of your heart. “Angels are necessary,” Chasny tells us, and we feel their presence in the song.
“Under Fixed Stars” finds Chasny breathing his lyrics over warm, comforting guitar strums you want to wrap up in and drift into a twilight zone -- not sleeping because you’d miss the music, but in the most relaxed state possible. With lyrics like “They say clouds are just carriages with tired birds and the birds sing secrets of the hidden world,” Chasny creates a fantastical world that seems much safer than ours now. Ryley Walker pops up on the instrumental “Around the Axis,” swirling his finger-picking style around Chasny’s. You can picture them in a duel, pacing around a central point, wielding their guitars like weapons.
The energizing “Taken By Ascent” brings an electric guitar into the mix, an ominous addition to our previously soothing album. This song will bring your heart rate back up, bubbling under with a foreboding sense of danger. Haley Fohr’s vocals only add to the unsettling feeling, like we should be hightailing it out of this place. The title track follows, with an echoing warble from the depths of hell running in the background. This is the sound of nightmares, a demon calling out you’re barely able to understand. Thankfully, “St. Eustace,” an upbeat and cheerful tune, brings us back to a happy place, and we’ve got psych-folk goodness surrounding us again. Changing tempo mid-way to a Spanish-influenced beat, the song finishes back at the original tempo, a sandwich of styles.
Album closer “Reflection” is just that: a look back on a past self. “Don’t do what you’ve done and don’t say what you said, what you always say,” Ben urges us, and we should listen. Finish listening to the album to recharge and then it’s time to go change the world.