There are a lot of guitar players out there. A lot. It’s hard to distinguish one’s self when set adrift in that massive six string ocean, but knowing heads have been tuned to whatever frequency Ben Chasny’s been transmitting since the late ’90s. Best known for his work in the searing psych madness of Comets on Fire, as well as the prodigious songbook constructed under his Six Organs Of Admittance alias (though there’s so much more), Chasny’s been furiously mapping the outer reaches of the fried fringe for as long as anyone else, and along the way has discovered some uncharted regions. The latest record, Hexadic, is an exercise in freedom via constraints in much the same way Matthew Barney explored via his Drawing Restraint project, or the random permutations of John Zorn’s Cobra. The songs are all based on combinations of different cards that create different tonal relationships when applied to the guitar fretboard; Chasny can explain it far better than I can, and intrepid guitar slingers can try for themselves as there is a rule book and playing deck available for purchase.
So how did it sound? Like a growling beast at times, and like a singing multi-throated angel at others. Chasny attacked the material with vigor, occasionally even bumping into his bass player Andrew Mitchell, while drummer Adam Payne (Residual Echoes) alternated between free jazz clatter and straight ahead 4/4 rock rhythms. Occasionally inscrutable, sometimes plangent in delivery, but always fascinating, Hexadic reverberates with the joy of creation.
Fellow Drag City label-mate Elisa Ambrogio was a nice match to open, and she concentrated mainly on material from her first solo record The Immoralist, her first foray outside the confines of noise rock trio Magik Markers. Her fragile songs were a stark contrast to the heavy skronk of that band, a very vulnerable approach to simple, stripped down songs. (She also employs an unusual way of playing guitar, taking a right-handed guitar and playing it upside down as a lefty, with the heavy gauge strings at the bottom, a la Gruff Rhys of Super Furry Animals). Chasny later joined her on stage to play “West Hartford,” a song the duo recorded as their 200 Years side project, making for a multi-faceted night.
Photos by Tim Bugbee: