I never expected much from Six Organs of Admittance's Ben Chasny when I stepped into some small rock club in the summer of 2003. Not that his music wasn't hypnotic and inspired by any means, I just never imagined that a year later 'psychedelic folk' would be a big seller in indie record stores and turn into the massive draw it currently is. But even in 2003, 25 people were already being drawn into the trance like sway of Chasny's expertly-crafted tripped out folk.
It wasn't always this way. For proof, pick up the newly-reissued The Manifestation on Strange Attractors (originally Chasny's vinyl-only release from 2000). A haunting and, of course, psychedelic affair, the title track itself stretches for a meandering 22 minutes, building up, hanging out, and finally breaking down in a melodic mess. Starting with percussive rhythms reminiscent of Pharoah Sanders' more meditative works, the track opens up with Chasny's trademark guitar, which is undoubtedly influenced by Middle Eastern melodies steeped in American folk traditions. Chasny's chant-like vocals enter at the 7 minute mark while tape loops and found sounds work their way into the musical stew. A deep drone silences the music and allows Chasny to weave his guitar back to the forefront before the piece eventually comes to a rest.
Recorded four years later, the second track, "The Six Stations," is a response to the title track. Here, Chasny shreds his guitar over a crackling, scratchy record that doesn't sound far from a John Fahey track, if Fahey decided to explore his more experimental moments. A poetry reading by Current 93's David Tibet breaks up the music and all that is left is the crackling sound. The track reverts to the guitar and crackling sounds for another 10 minutes before concluding.
While The Manifestation offers a glimpse at what Chasny aimed for when he first began recording, the tracks are more amateur and meandering than one would expect from someone who has taken the reins of the psychedelic music scene. What made Dark Noontide and Compathia so compelling were Chasny's ability to take elements of blues, psychedelia, and experimental sounds and make them palpable and accessible without watering down any of the qualities that made it so original in the first place. Twenty minute tracks might sound fine on paper, but Chasny has shown excellent prowess in his ability to streamline the best moments of psychedelic music into six minute nuggets. I'm intrigued by where he came from, but much more satisfied with where Six Organs of Admittance is headed.
1. The Manifestation
2. The Six Stations