It has become difficult to keep pace with the prolific guitarist and composer Ben Chasny. Albums under the Six Organs Of Admittance name appear with impressive regularity (and, it must be said, with consistent quality), whilst he also has electric psychedelic project Rangda and a new project 200 Years with Elisa Ambrogio from Magik Markers. For those unfamiliar with his musical history, there is of course also his outstanding work with Ethan Miller in the sadly now defunct Comets On Fire. Where on earth should a new convert begin?
Conveniently, it transpires that Asleep On The Floodplain is a very inviting album indeed. Some Chasny live performances have been doom-laden and foreboding, whilst Rangda’s music is by its very nature sprawling and excessive (in a very good way). Asleep On The Floodplain, by way of contrast, seems remarkably controlled and self contained. It finds Chasny mostly finger-picking a steel stringed acoustic guitar with very minimal accompaniment. Occasionally he sings, his voice multi-tracked into a calm reverie, and the music is sometimes underpinned by soft drones, but it’s very much his guitar playing that takes centre stage here.
Asleep On The Floodplain is a beautifully warm and intimate recording that somehow makes the listener feel as if they are alone in a room with Chasny (albeit a room with a significant degree of natural reverb). The opening Above A Desert I’ve Never Seen sets the scene superbly, with Chasny’s graceful, flowing guitar lines sounding more elaborate and inventive than ever. For much of this sublime album, Chasny is at his most subtle and eloquent as an instrumentalist.
The whole album has a hypnotic feeling of blissful calm, a sensation brilliantly captured in both lyrics and music on the disarmingly sweet Hold But Let Go. Chasny’s voice is unassuming, perhaps even vulnerable, but the song suggests not weakness but rather a state of comfort and acceptance. River Of My Youth, which features a guest appearance from Elisa Ambrogio, is more spacious and cinematic, less of a chamber piece, but still refreshingly direct and unmediated.
At the centre of the album is a lengthy, harmonically static piece called S/Word and Leviathan. It is perhaps a spiritual or devotional work, with its almost buried chanting, slowly flowing, haunting melodies and relentless strum. What could threaten to alienate actually emerges as the album’s extraordinary highlight. The tracks that precede it are so light and captivating that it is much easier to accept the extrapolated explorations of S/Word and Leviathan. It is most certainly not background music – rather, along with Chasny’s best work, it is breathtaking in its ability to overpower and create a hugely absorbing listening experience. When an electric guitar enters at the end of the track, it cuts through the carefully sustained atmosphere with brilliant bite.
Along with School Of The Flower, this may be one of the best Six Organs albums. Its gentleness is affecting and transporting and the whole album is carefully constructed and beautifully performed. It is also brilliantly sequenced – a work that very much needs to be digested as a whole.