The calm idyll on the cover of Companion Rises belies the ramshackle listen that Six Organs has created.
Companion Rises, the new album from Six Organs of Admittance, begins in a delightfully shocking way: a messy, distorted synthesizer careens about wildly, intermittently sitting still for the briefest of moments before hurtling off through the ether once again. It’s the sound of electricity or radio waves barely contained, a potential breach between our world and another one more unruly. It’s unsettling but inviting, your curiosity piqued even as the hairs on your neck are on high alert.
That same buzzy energy crackles throughout Companion Rises. Six Organs main man Ben Chasny has always futzed about with his sound, veering from pastoral, acoustic soundscapes to noisy, psychedelic jams and back again. His discography is restless in the best ways as Chasny has explored the mercurial meeting place of distorted and acoustic guitars, noise and peace. Here, he takes it up a notch, enveloping his knotty songs in something that eschews even those simple dichotomies. Sounds are strewn about like wreckage on a deserted highway as Chasny melds together seemingly disparate elements, but none of it feels out of place or forced. Metallic-sounding acoustic guitars are deftly finger-picked while unwieldy electric guitars wail in the background. Synths swoop around recklessly while Chasny’s ethereal vocals float above the fray. The songs here have an ultra-presence, the incidental noises of music-making given nearly as much weight as the notes. As finger-picked acoustic strings buzz noisily and every scrape of digits across the fretboard sounds out, it creates a visceral and human music, beautiful in its imperfections.
Along with that physical sense, there is a strong spiritual quality to Companion Rises. On “Haunted and Unknown,” Chasny’s strained whisper croons over acoustic guitar and minimal drums until an uplifting synthesizer wash arises to overtake the song. It has the same airy feel and effect of Alice Coltrane’s ashram music of the 80s, synths buoying you aloft among the clouds with acoustic just barely discernible below. It’s a moment that is enjoyable for both its boldness and its beauty. On the beautiful and delicate title track, over guitar that sounds piano-like in its depth, Chasny sings “Companion rises/ Sent to the heavens” while synths wiggle in the background. It’s followed by the driving “The 101,” a noisy song with a busy acoustic riff, palm-muted riffing and guitar-god histrionics. Chasny blends it all in a way that creates a strange peace among the chaos, that feeling you get when you’ve been driving all day, the sun is setting and you’ve just arrived on the outskirts of a major metropolitan area. It’s crazy and thrilling but your exhaustion levels you out, your body and mind in perfect equilibrium.
The beautiful and strangely uplifting “Black Tea” falls in the more traditional psych guitar mold, with its vaguely Middle Eastern guitars, tabla-style drumming, and Emerson, Lake and Palmer-ish synths. “The Scout is Here” is the closest thing to a pop song on the album with its ascending melody and intricate guitar line, though its chorus (“It’s here/ It’s here/ The scout is watching you”) is fairly unsettling. “Mark Yourself” has a woozy guitar riff that incites dizziness, like the end of a long day at an amusement park, tired but happy and maybe a little nauseous from taking on too much experience.
The calm idyll on the cover of Companion Rises belies the ramshackle listen that Six Organs has created. Chasny rides the tension between the disparate elements he’s brought together to create an experience that forces you to find peace in places you might not expect. That Chasny is somehow able to smoosh all these elements together into a compelling, immersive whole is no small feat.