Posts Tagged ‘Drag City’

Drag City – 21st February 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

One thing you can never criticise Ben Chasny for is a lack of ideas, and over the course of twenty-two years, he’s pursued a line of technical and theoretical experimentation that’s yielded some remarkable results, perhaps most keenly exemplified by the recent Hexadic trilogy which spanned three years of deep and intensely focused and highly structured theory/practice-based work. The sequence was punctuated by Burning the Threshold in 2017, and is now finally broken with Companion Rises, which the single release of ‘Haunted and Known’ hinted at the form of.

According to the blurbage, ‘methodologically, Companion Rises sometimes recalls the early-mid lo-fi Six Organs records, with digital processes substituting for the analog techniques of yore and, instead of Ben Chasny’s hand percussion overdubs, algorithmic programs generating rhythms’. We also learn that Chasny ‘created all sounds and programs, all the recording and mixed the entire record, also like some earlier ones’, but the emphasis is less on revisiting the past than it is expanding on those early principles and practises to forge something altogether new and quite different.

From the surging synth organ swell of the intro, ‘Pacific’, it’s immediately apparent that Companion Rises is a different kind of beast: too ruptured, fractured and dissonant to be ambient, too vague in form to be conventionally categorizable as a ‘song’ even as an instrumental, it twists and squirms around and creates a certain sense of disturbance, and while it sits apart from the rest of the album in almost every sense, it also reflects the spirit of experimentalism.

Stylistically, it’s a curious hybrid of wonky folk and indie, played rough and loose and recorded cheap. ‘Two Forms Moving’ is a hypnotic, looping affair, that builds layers, and the zany lead guitar work is magnificently at odds with the hypnotically repetitive strum that forms the song’s basis, and it’s as if the two forms are moving in different directions yet somehow collide perfectly.

This is a large part of what makes Six Organs such an enduringly interesting proposition: as much driven by theory and experimentation conducted within set parameters, Chasny makes music that doesn’t quite sound like anyone else’s. Those defined parameters or specific methodologies, often a feature of John Cage’s compositions, are more commonly the domain of electronic or electroacoustic artists, and are more usually found in the domain of the avant-garde, while ‘rock’ music is – broadly speaking – more concerned with concepts than technical executions where compositions are concerned. Companion Rises chucks it all in the blender and whirls up something novel, but without it being novelty: songs are still very much the focus.

Those songs are diverse and tend not to place too much priority on conventions of verse and chorus, but there are hooks, nagging motifs, dainty, dreamy folky atmospherics and lilting melodies, and wrapped up in a lo-fi buzz that’s definitely not Dolby and all the more immediate because of it.

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cover Six Organs of Admittance - Companion Rises

Cave – Allways

Posted: 5 December 2018 in Albums
Tags: , , , , ,

Drag City

Christopher Nosnibor

Allways represents an evolution for Chicago-based psychedelic droners Cave. Perhaps not an evolution in spelling, having delivered an album I can’t help but squirm at whenever I see its title, but that’s not the point when assessing its artistic merits. But nevertheless, Allways is very much a different work from its predecessor, Threace

As the press blurb explains, ‘during the making of the last album, Threace, CAVE was in the process of becoming a quintet. They toured the world afterwards, playing on four continents and eighteen countries – as close to everywhere as they could get. Then they took a minute. They recorded it over time, in Chile and then Chicago. You can hear all of this, the energy of liveness, the reps, and consolidating expanded possibilities within their new alignment, the time away, the distance, and the freshness of returning to recorded sounds, everywhere on Allways.’

And here I find I’m torn. The skewed angles of the previous efforts – which admittedly always alluded as much to jazz as math-rock – have been sanded down a bit, so while there’s still a heavily psychedelic aspect to the album’s compositions, they’re very much predominantly of the jazz persuasion. And this is where I get twitchy. Sure, the nine-minute ‘Beaux’ pushes the space-ruck groove, but there’s some ultra-anal wah-wah action that’s pitched at precisely the level marked ‘irritation’.

There’s nothing to match the epic build and driving sustained crescendo of ‘Sweaty Fingers’, for example. And while they pitch Allways with the enthusiastic babble that ‘their inspiration comes from everywhere – Miles, psych, beats, exotica, library music, rock, punk, the Germans, the New York guys too, minimalists, the Dead, music from India, everywhere!’ I mostly get a lot of jazz here. And you know how I feel about jazz, man. Or if not, then maybe you ought to dig that while I don’t hate jazz per se, I’m on the top flight of picky when it comes to how I like it.

Allways kinda slips to the wrong side, the muso side. It gets mellow, and it gets introspective – not in the analytical, self-aware sense, but in the looping grooves with funk-tinged licks that nag and gnaw beyond insistence to irritation. ‘The Juan’ starts off promisingly enough, a bit of a prog riffing and a bold, strolling bassline that then meanders into more math-orientated territory, and then… well, some intriguingly expansive passages are marred by just too much jazz vibing that makes it an album that requires a beard to stroke to be eligible to listen to.

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Cave – Allways