Six Organs of Admittance
- Luminous Night (Drag City)
Despite its pleasures, guitar music can ultimately become a dead end bear trap for virtuosos. The suffocating splendors of Leo Kottke and Robbie Basho come to mind. Listening to their music, we hear guitar playing as fine art. Technique, clarity, and theory are given an idiosyncratic pedestal upon which to beautifully unfold. But just as the insularity, price, and stuffiness of the art world ultimately commodifies and detracts from the art, so does this precious approach to guitar. The music becomes a hermetically sealed world producing endless audio permutations of hot -house flowers; perfect, but oppressively so. In the face of this, an artist’s task is to figure out an escape plan that allows them to use their talents without being trapped by them. John Fahey, another disciple of the guitar, did so by balancing traditionalism with deconstructed tone poems. While all of this is not meant to belittle the skill and passion of technically gifted guitar players, we ultimately come back to matters of vision and voyage. Ben Chasny is a wonderfully talented musician who several years ago was balanced on the fence between virtuosity and true art. About the time of his amazing album, School of the Flower, he chose to follow the muse, and in doing so, has produced a string of visionary albums that explore both the outer limits of sound and intensely cosmic themes.
Luminous Night finds Chasny yet again answering, “The Hero’s Call to Adventure,” (See Joseph Campbell) and seeking out new lands. Produced by Randall Dunn (who also did the honors on the brilliant SUNNO))) album, Monoliths and Dimensions) Luminous Night exudes a lush, velvety darkness. From within these dust-cloud nebulas of sound there emerges delicate musical textures played on viola, flute, synths, and of course guitar. Epic doom-laced stories of Greek heroes (Actaeon’s Fall), Jesus Christ (Bar-Nasha), and the trials of a homesteader’s family (Ursa- Minor) swirl around the listener’s ear with the narratorial intensity of Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner. The song writing on display here shows a maturation and holistic integrity that uses drone and melody to produce something timeless yet challenging. There are hints and echoes of other artists’ sonic fingerprints and influence. Bar-Nasha bears the eerie cadence of the best of Peter Murphy’s vocals with Bauhaus. Anesthesia dips a toe into the existential themes and sounds of mid-period Pink Floyd. These influences, however, never override what is an incredible and gorgeous album. In this world of the instantly disposable and frustratingly off-limits, Six Organs of Admittance have accomplished quite a feat. They have produced a dark jewel that doesn’t shy away from the epic or try to hide the human hands that made it. Ben Chasny has once again avoided the beautiful yet empty shell of virtuosity and in doing so has found the true luminous quality of night.