I love the idea of extremes; y’know an extreme calm, an extreme storm, the extreme highs, those extreme lows? There’s a real disparity to them, obviously – one’s loud and shrieking, throwing everything and anything at every possible human sense and the other is near silent, allowing every sense the time to drift and find their own space of purpose. And, in life, you certainly need them both. You need a yardstick to measure the other and compare it by, so I wanted to prefix this review with the idea that Six Organs Of Admittance’s latest album, Hexadic, deals in some pretty savage contrasts. It’s loud, yet it’s quiet, it bleeds jagged spurts of distortion one minute and yet it can feel wholly lush or diminutive the next. Six Organs’ central protagonist is Ben Chasny – a much celebrated finger picking musician whose work has been labelled things like ‘freak folk’ in the past – and he’d already made no bones about wanting to make this a ‘rock record;’ but the album seems to slope in and lean onto the belly of that description as an exceptionally wide, cushy crutch.
If you analyse it; what really makes a rock record? The pounding drums? The pummeling bass lines? Or is it more about the wails of distorted guitar and the slightly overblown sense of self-importance? Well, Hexadic kinda has all of that covered; but it certainly feels freer than the assumption that Chasny’s description conjures. Reading up about the ‘The Hexadic System’ – a pioneering method Chasny created to essentially randomize his choices of notes and chord changes and extinguish any reliance on patterns – it seems on first look to be rather grandly complex, but from what I gather it’s essentially an open system that allows a deck of cards to dictate the tonal notes, timbre, chord changes and direction of the songs. You’d think that such a way of working could and most likely would create an even more oblique and onmi-directional clutter of improvised sound that would end in a sort of Dice Man travels to ‘The Magic City’ sort of spontaneous squalling and racket. But it doesn’t.
Obviously Chasny is directing and sculpting these songs with his system, letting them inspire and punt him in certain directions but it’s so much more than the mathematical mess it can appear to be when you write it down on paper.* I listened to the record without reading any accompanying information. No press release, no google, no nothing (I know, you’re sitting there thinking ‘this guy’s a fucking leviathan headed rebel,’ right?) and I found something in it that I was never ever expecting. I found a whole range of sonic extremes that felt like Godspeed’s sound palette had been fed through Sun Ra’s cosmically individual belief system by Dylan Carson’s fair and tattooed hand.
Honestly, the first time I heard it, the first time I really connected with it, all I knew was that my friend Ross was really into the band six or seven years ago and he’d dug and put me on to people like Akron/Family and Smog and those sorts of assorted psychedelic Americana that I’ve grown to love. So when I found it, yeah, for sure it came on super strong. I definitely wasn’t expecting the assault of ‘Wax Chance’, especially after the jangling meander of LP opener ‘The Ram,’ but I fully embraced it because… well because, fuck man, I was already in it! I’d given myself to the idea of it being an experiment before I even read that it was an experiment. This thing it chewed me out without prior knowledge or even my own angle.
The fact that I keep going back, willing it to do throw something new and preposterous at me is enough to warrant this kind of merit. The fact that no one else around seems to get it, simply makes it all the more special too.
Heaxadic is out now on Drag City.
Buy at Drag City.
* though there is reportedly a book, written by the Chasny, documenting the process forthcoming.