August Born August Born

[Drag City; 2005]

Rating: 4.5/5

Styles: psych-folk, free-folk, experimental rock
Others: Six Organs of Admittance, L, Wooden Wand & the Vanishing Voice

By now, the back-story of this epic debut from Hiroyuki Usui (L) and Ben Chasny (Six Organs of Admittance, Comets on Fire) is drowned out by the fact that the sound of a dead bird's burial appears on the self-titled debut. That's too bad because Usui and Chasny put the Postal Service to shame in how chance correspondence yields unbelievably free and powerful music. Thanks to journalist and Japanese music lover Alan Cummings, Usui and Chasny started an e-mail-based conversation that became collaboration through mail. Chasny sent off a nugget of sound, Usui added to it and sent it back. Yada yada yada, the rest is history.

So what about the album? How does it sound?

It sounds like heaven, and it sounds like hell. August Born is the ultimate meshing of soul. The album feeds off each piece of music, each note and every thud. I doubt any other two people could create such a sweeping epic of experimentation and structure. The strong numbers -- "Blues to Begin," "A Lot Like You," and the album's pinnacle "Birds and Sun and Clay" -- reflect an intimacy and carnal understanding of human nature that Usui and Chasny are able to explore through music, no matter the distance (and language barriers) between them. "A Lot Like You" prominently features Usui's vocals as Chasny's guitar accents the resonating voice and ringing percussion. "Birds and Sun and Clay" may rely on Chasny's prototypical sound, but Usui's subtle drumming and electric guitar provide the heartbeat; meanwhile, "What makes your day/ Birds and sun and clay" is wistfully repeated as a mantra never to be forgotten.

The force behind August Born is humility, as neither man willingly takes center stage -- in fact, each is pushing the other in the spotlight. Usui takes advantage of his time in his solo outing "Dead Bird Blues." Lazily strumming a banjo while pouring out his heart in a Japanese cowboy drawl, Usui captures a brief moment in time when everything is calm and tranquil, even in the time of death and grief. The track is minimal, short and sweet, the ultimate yang to the album's yin of longwinded and tightly constructed melodies. Chasny's sad farewell, "You Will Be Warm," chooses to take a different route as well. The warm guitar waves goodbye solemnly and sheds tear for the end of August Born's first chapter.

It's amazing that distance is no longer a hindrance to creating art. And even though the world is plugged-in these days, it's truly inspiring how Usui and Chasny chose to use the dying medium of snail mail to create beautiful and long-lasting art. The anticipation from both ends, waiting to hear what was in store, must have been too much to bear at times. But it's the waiting that created August Born, and now we must all wait to see if Usui and Chasny give in to temptation again and create another masterpiece of vision and sound.

1. Blues to Begin
2. Dead Bird Blues
3. A Thousand Butterflies
4. More Dead Bird Blues
5. Last Breath of the Bird
6. Birds & Sun & Clay
7. Song of the Dead
8. Providence
9. A Lot Like You
10. You Will Be Warm