Monday, May 09, 2011

Six Organs of Admittance—Asleep on the Floodplain (Drag City)

It’s a credit to Ben Chasny’s abilities as a guitarist and songwriter that his work sounds so effortless. It has the flow and spontaneity of conversation, making the listener feel like a privileged eavesdropper. Listen to the exchange of phrases on the opening track “Above a Desert I've Never Seen”: tentative at first, then faster, as the discussion heats up, trills jabbing back and forth, then resolution and a calm parting of the ways. It’s surely the product of intense concentration on the part of the artist, but sounds easy as breathing.

Asleep on the Floodplain takes a more intimate, acoustic approach than recent Six Organs of Admittance albums such as Luminous Night or The Sun Awakens. Four of the tracks are solo guitar, with occasional harmonium overdubs. The combination works very well—the guitar paints a compelling line in the foreground; the harmonium provides the background element; that other dimension.

Sounds both placid and haunting dominate, like the low thrum that underpins “Brilliant Blue Sea Between Us” or the synth that curls like smoke around the memorable “Hold But Let Go.” “S/Word and Leviathan,” the longest track, establishes an uneasy atmosphere, vibrating like a dozen hammers pounding on power cables for several minutes. A chord progression emerges, then some vocals, before an electric guitar slashes through and obliterates all the chatter. “A New Name on an Old Cement Bridge” follows, a bluesy guitar piece to balance the mood after its predecessor’s cloudburst.

The album abounds in water imagery, which suits the flowing qualities of the music on Asleep on the Floodplain. These are small-seeming songs that resonate much larger, like the chain of ripples forming behind a skipping stone.

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