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Six Organs of Admittance, "Time is Glass"

Time is GlassThis latest release from Ben Chasney's shapeshifting and long-running psych project is billed as a sort of homecoming album, as Chasney recently moved back to California's famed Humboldt County region after a few decades away. As befits an album recorded on a picturesque coast best known for weed and beautiful redwood forests, Time Is Glass is an especially intimate, casual, and mellow Six Organs album (the cover art of a beachside dog walk captures the tone quite nicely, I think). Admittedly, that softer side of Six Organs is usually not my cup of tea (I am a fundamentally un-mellow person), but I genuinely appreciate Chasney's passion for continual evolution and reinvention and there is already a sizable backlog of Six Organs material that falls more in my comfort zone. As such, I am always willing to indulge Chasney's erratic muse wherever it may lead. More importantly, I consider Chasney to be something of a fitful and unpredictable guitar visionary: there are admittedly plenty of Six Organs songs that leave me cold, but it is never safe to assume that a new Chasney album will be devoid of flashes of brilliance. In keeping with that theme, Time Is Glass is a bit of an uneven album for me, but it does feature two sustained flashes of brilliance that rank among Chasney's finest work.

Drag City

Listening to this album, I was newly struck by the improbable stylistic gray area that Chasney's oeuvre inhabits: Six Organs of Admittance has basically been an underground/psych institution since the turn of the millennium, but it always seemed like Ben's vision was shaped by classic rock almost as much as it was inspired by artists like Loren Connors and Richard Bishop. That is definitely not an easy balance to navigate or seamlessly maintain, but sometimes the collision of those two sides yields extremely cool results (Chasney's talents for dual-guitar harmonies and occasional fiery shredding have always delighted me).

I bring up Chasney's oft-blurry stylistic niche because much of Time Is Glass feels like ambient music done the hard way: these songs have lyrics, melodies, verses, and choruses, but rather than making me think "this song fucking slaps" or "wow-that's a killer line," pieces like "Slip Away" and "The Mission" instead evoke images of a solitary rustic idyll by design. In short, this is a very vibe-driven album: the songs have enjoyable melodies and a strong "mountain cabin" charm, but Chasney's vocals often have a hushed and floating falsetto-esque weightlessness to them that transforms these songs into an unusually impressionistic strain of loner Americana. If Ben set out to capture the naked and unpolished poetic romanticism of a man alone in a room soulfully playing a well-worn acoustic guitar, he nailed it.

For me, however, there is one song that towers above everything else on the album and that song is "My Familiar," which seems like it could be a reference to Ben's dog, as their daily walks partially set the rhythm for these recording sessions. Hopefully, said dog is not secretly a low-ranking demon masquerading as an animal, but I would be willing to overlook such a character flaw as compensation for inspiring such a cool riff. Aside from having a great hook in the form of that central riff and some of the best lyrics on the album, there actually isn't much difference between "My Familiar" and the rest of the songs until the crescendo, as Chasney briefly goes electric for a harmonized guitar solo and some warbling psychedelic coloring. Uncharacteristically, my other favorite song is also a guitar showcase, as the instrumental "Summer's Last Rays" steadily builds from a virtuosic solo acoustic guitar performance into an unexpectedly layered and spacey crescendo (and a very cool backwards guitar solo).

I suppose it isn't at all surprising that I enjoyed the pieces with multi-tracked harmonies, impressive technical flourishes, and more complex arrangements more than I did the more simple "acoustic guitar and a voice" pieces, but it did make me appreciate the direct and pared-to-the-bone nature of the other songs. A killer arrangement or an additional track can work wonders for a song that just needs a little something extra to fully work, so it is a gutsy/honest choice to go without such enhancements and rely on pure songcraft alone (such a constraint can be an extremely harsh light if your songs are weak). These songs are not weak, of course, but that does not mean that there are the definitive versions either, as it is easy to imagine an alternate or live version of one of those starker pieces surfacing as a beloved classic someday: how Chasney chooses to interpret a song can make all the difference in the world. In the meantime, Time Is Glass is a likable album with vibes for days and a couple of fresh additions to the Six Organs of Admittance highlight reel.

Listen here.