Ben Chasny’s prolific output could lead to the (incorrect) impression that much of his work is created without much in the way of thought. His music with Six Organs Of Admittance over recent years might well feel impulsive and primal, but there’s usually a process behind it.
Intriguingly, Hexadic is an album that takes the thought process away from Chasny a little, in compositional terms at least. Over the last few years Chasny has been developing a new method of song writing, by creating a pack of cards that directly influence the band’s music. There are connected elements across the deck, and signifiers that suggest different tones, tunings, moods and lyrics. Quite how influential the deck is in the production of the music is hard to ascertain, without actually seeing the process in full effect. Additionally, this is not an album that sounds as if it has been written to rules or a system. The irony is, that this is perhaps the most sonically chaotic work from Chasny in some time.
The Hexadic system is, as Chasny describes it, “open”, but it is also prescriptive. The result of its usage is an album that sounds as if it is constantly in a state of flux between improvisation and rigid notation. Opening track The Ram is as good an example of the system at work as any. It finds the band apparently tuning up and readying themselves to start a session. Drums randomly roll out patterns, a singular bass note appears every so often, and the guitars echo out random notes with no particular purpose. Familiarity with the song does reveal occasional cohesion between the players, but initially, it sounds aimless and unfocussed. It is not unlike being faced with Trout Mask Replica for the first time. What appears to be an unholy mess is held together with a system that needs to be understood in order to make sense of what is going on; finding the key is, one suspects, essential.
Wax Chance is less skittering than the opening track, but no less confusing. It’s a wall of feedback, strangulated guitar chaos, and buried vocals all underpinned by an incessant and terrifying bass. Sonic Youth would have been proud to come up with something as unpleasant and gloriously chaotic as this. Maximum Hexadic follows the noise/chaos line to its logical conclusion and creates some of the most affecting and mindboggling noise to be found anywhere on the album.
If the early signs are that Chasny’s system leads to little more than impressionistic noise and chaos, then the quiet shimmer of Hesitant Grand Light points towards an alternative and provides something of a relief. It stays clear of bombast and aims for something calmer and sunnier. Its warm tones and hints of simplistic Spanish guitar might not be groundbreaking, but they do offer some relief from the furious noise that opens the album. In fact, as the album progresses it calms down considerably. Standout track Future Verbs eschews noise for space, and finds the band exploring similar dusty landscapes as Earth. The vintage sounds of their instruments (one of the key aspects of Six Organs Of Admittance) finally coming to the fore. Vestige could be a segue plucked from the grooves of Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s F♯ A♯ ∞, its soft focus swells both beautiful and haunting. By the time Guild closes the album, the band appear to be playing structured post-rock lullabies.
Hexadic is most certainly a challenging and confusing album and one that can, at times, be a struggle to listen to. It is worth persevering however, for there are flashes of brilliance to be found in the constant battle between control and abandon. When Chasny’s songwriting system is finally revealed and others begin to use it, it will be interesting to hear the results.