Tuesday, January 13, 2009

School of the Flower - Six Organs of Admittance (Winter Albums)

School of the Flower

Six Organs of Admittance
Drag City Records.

SCQ Rating: 82%

Opening with a fury of cymbals and drums over one lonely, reverberating organ, School of the Flower’s first minute and a half could be the audible equivalent of a birth, a war, or some unspecific rift in Ben Chasny’s utopia. When the dust of ‘Eighth Cognition/All You’ve left’ settles into its softer, second suite, we have a better understanding of Chasny’s gift; a no-man’s land cross between droning noise and expertly crafted folk. For those who’ve followed his prolific career (encompassing at least one album per year since 1998), School of the Flower’s first impression hardly cries for attention. Yet when given repeated listens, this 2005 debut for Drag City Records expands and clings, stretching its meager running-time like endless prairie vistas and cements its vocal harmonies to your brain.

Few artists in the “progressive-folk” canon are as qualified to be named preposterous-flagship act as Six Organs of Admittance, largely due to Chasny’s love for acoustic ragas and lo-fi noise experiments. Although ‘Thicker Than A Smokey’ and ‘Saint Cloud’ meld raga with repetition to spellbinding effect, the thirteen-minute title track will surely test some listeners’ patience. The drones may also divide fans (i.e. what I consider a breathtaking bridge of feedback in ‘Home’, my girlfriend calls a “dying whale”), but those who enjoy contemplative folk mixed with some innovative noise elements will find that School of the Flower is obscenely mastered in the field.

What makes his eighth album his best is not only its accessibility but its production, which is further polished than previous efforts. Rustic strums are clean and shimmering, and with an array of bells and ambient sounds as heard in ‘Procession of Cherry Blossom Spirits’, School of the Flower is an expansive set of Appalachian folk and backwoods meditations. Next to a hot cup of tea, this is probably the best companion you could have on a frozen morning when you’re lucky enough to have nowhere to go.

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