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Six Organs of Admittance
Companion Rises Will Ainsley , February 27th, 2020 10:06

In a recent Quietus interview, Six Organs of Admittance’s Ben Chasny talked about his love of stargazing. It’s a passion that initially seems a little at odds with his new album, Companion Rises, which feels earthy, gnarled, and tactile. Could there be, at the heart of this record, tension between the tangible and the remote?

The musical skeletons of ‘Two Forms Moving’, ‘The Scout Is Here’, ‘The 101’, and ‘Black Tea’ have a rigid, industrial quality. They feel rooted in place. Guitar, bass, synthesizer, and drum parts interlock and overlap. A snare drum’s tattoo might mimic the emphasis of a guitar rhythm and the songs are, more often than not, constructed around one looped motif. This restricted pulse and flow lends the music a dense, almost claustrophobic feel. Imagine listening to a giant forge: Disembowelment Tapes - Nine Hours of Sounds from Isengard to Make You Work.

All the looping and processing means Companion Rises has hallmarks of glitchy IDM such as the raw metallic percussion textures similar to those on Autechre’s Chiastic Slide. Each instrument seems to be produced in one of two styles: it’s either mired in sonic detritus like heavy processing and digital degradation; or presented coldly and clinically without embellishment or varnish like the bright acoustic guitar on ‘Two Forms Moving’ and ‘Haunted and Known’. The effect of this binary is songs that feel layered and granulated; they buckle and bulge while still marching onwards.

With such attention-grabbing music it’s no wonder the vocals often seem to skirt around the edges of this album, as if the dense production limits their movement. Chasny’s lyrics can be hard to discern. His voice is submerged in the mix, occasionally rising out of the murk and the gloom but for the most part cloaked in echo and modulation. Although in his interview Chasny says, "lyric-wise it has a lot to do with the stars", words such as ‘Here’, ‘Known’, and ‘Down’ used in the song titles imply a general stasis. On ‘Black Tea’ Chasny repeats "I can barely move". The narrative voice identifies its distance from the stars on ‘Haunted and Known’ by suggesting the "cosmos don’t need a friend". Even the album title suggests the narrator has been left both behind and below. Despite all this, it’s the very act of describing this distance that implies awareness of the gulf. Lyrics like "carry me up to heaven" (sung on ‘Black Tea’) verbalise the desire for transcendence.

The tension I mentioned at the beginning seems not to be between the acoustic and electronic, or even voice and instrument, but between freedom and constraint. Although often restricted by guitar string, drum skin, and vocal cord, the songs occasionally attempt to transcend their earthly vessels. The constant guitar flourishes in ‘The 101’ sound like the string trying to shake loose and break free. Companion Rises is bookended by two atmospheric ambient pieces, ‘Pacific’ and ‘Worn Down To The Light’. Free from the constraints of rhythm, they whirr and flutter unfettered.

Near the end of the album there’s a song called ‘Haunted and Known’ that moves from a pretty staid arrangement into a coda of giant, heartrending chords so monolithic and expansive you feel submerged. My god it’s superb, with the percussion and guitar eventually drowned out by prolonged heavenly roars. Although these more amorphous moments are peripheral (at the end of a song or bookending an album) they, along with the lyrics, confront that desire to be borne upwards by showing the distance between a grounded reality and an empyreal desire.

Companion Rises is the sound of rattling shackles and tension not resolved but placated. The narrator rooted on earth by their surroundings still has a poetic awareness of the ethereal and the far-flung. Companion Rises is Ben Chasny’s valiant attempt to cast himself skyward.