Personnel: Ben Chasny (vocals, guitar); Ethan Miller (slide guitar); Ben Flashman (bass guitar); Utrillo Kushner (drums).
Recording information: Louder Studios, Grass Valley, CA (01/2012).
Following the muted, pastoral Americana of 2010's Asleep on the Floodplain, the ever-shifting Six Organs of Admittance took another abrupt turn on Ascent, with the band's only mainstay, Ben Chasney, pulling out some of his more heroic guitar moves for an album of sprawling full electric band exploration. The album is very much in the rock tradition with Chasney indulging in raging guitar solos over equally pummeling tunes that fall between extended blues-rock jams and spaced-out psychedelia. Following "Waswasa," a relentless and jagged instrumental that opens the album, the band breaks into "Close to the Sky" with a rumbling midtempo bassline and a sprawling desert-invoking landscape reminiscent of the Doors at their trippiest, pushed even further in that druggy direction by Chasney's warbling vocals, sounding beamed in from a distant planet. "They Called You Near" is a haunted raga, with characteristic SOOA guitar drones and various textures fading in and out of chant-like multi-tracked vocals. This unsettling tension eventually breaks into a riled-up celebration of high-speed, Eastern-flavored woodsy folk sounds, complete with romping drums, distant woodwinds, and acoustic guitars competing with the oddly matched fuzz bass. While the album skitters around stylistically, Chasney is joined by every last one of his Comets on Fire bandmates, making the similarities between Ascent and the trademark epic howling of Comets on Fire hard to miss. However, Ascent isn't a complete free-for-all jam by any means. Chasney reins in the electric insanity on the gentle acoustic deep-space love story "Your Ghost," and mellow album-closer "Visions (From Io)" glows with all the subdued power of early-'90s indie rock slow-burners like Yo La Tengo or Seam, but steeped in the spectral, spacy feel that permeates the entire album. Aided by the incredibly controlled spazzout of Noel von Harmonson's brigade of guitar tones and Utrillo Kushner's beautifully brutal drumming, however, the songs here that rock out take no prisoners and leave a trail of psychedelic ashes in their wake, smoldering like a million used-up sticks of incense. While it sounds less like a single-minded effort from Chasney than it does a high-spirited collective freakout from a reconfigured Comets on Fire, Chasney is still at the core of all the songs, transmitting his freaky visions in the guise of one face-melting power jam after another. ~ Fred Thomas
Kerrang (Magazine) (p.54) - "After hearing ASCENT, you'll be hard-pressed to locate a better batch of mesmerising, mind-expanding jams this year."
Q (Magazine) (p.111) - 4 stars out of 5 -- "[T]here's no doubt Chasny and cohorts know all about dynamic underpinnings, making ASCENT a trip worth taking."
Mojo (Publisher) (p.90) - 4 stars out of 5 -- "[I]t's a wild and welcome left turn into a terrific and heavy guitar-driven psychedelia....Mysterious and enfolding, ASCENT seduces."
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