Between the release slate of the guitar-focused VDSQ label and formidable recent works by instrumentalists like Anthony Pasquarosa and Rob Noyes, both of whom arrived through the back door of punk and hardcore, folk guitar has seen a recent upswing in visibility. The reason has a lot to do with folk's appeal as one of the last frontiers in guitar-oriented music. This is a field where technique and vision can quickly equate to a musical persona. It's also a very rich seam for cultural archaeologists and historians to dive into, providing invaluable context for new explorers to discover. The mutability and depth of the form offer as much of an opportunity to move foward as to mine dimensions of the past, and the physicality of playing an acoustic instrument lends itself well to musicians seeking to develop a voice of their own.
None of this should be news to guitarist Ben Chasny, nor to the ardent followers of his main project, Six Organs Of Admittance. In recent years, Chasny has slowed down his once-breakneck pace of activity and recorded output. Most recently, he showcased the Hexadic System (a chance-based form of guitar improvisation involving a selection of playing cards, which he devised in response to his own wandering interests and as a personal challenge) across a pair of albums, 2015's Hexadic and Hexadic II, as well as in a published manuscript outlining how others can adopt the style in practice.
With such a lofty expectation just behind him, Chasny resets the dial once more with Six Organs' latest record, Burning The Threshold. Envisioned, ostensibly, as a clearinghouse for his interpretations on a wide range of thoughts, musical and otherwise, as well as a space for collaborations with friends new and old, the new album is anchored by the seven-minute centerpiece "Taken By Ascent." A smoldering, momentous folk-blues burner, the track's sinister energy leads Chasny away from the Hexadic form and back to the strength of his own songwriting. Accompanied by longtime collaborator Chris Corsano on drums and percussion, and joined by Circuit Des Yeux's Haley Fohr on vocals and Bitchin Bajas' Cooper Crain on keyboards, Chasny doubles up both acoustic and electric guitars, handed off effortlessly from one wicked messenger to the next.
As the mantra-like central lick plays against eerie falsetto vocal counterpoints, the fiery burn of distortion and finally an otherworldly visit by complementary synth leads, that riff never once wavers. Strong enough for Corsano to employ one of his trademark supple backbeats, "Taken By Ascent" pulls us out of theory and happenstance into the now. And with that repetition closing around us, Chasny creates a work that stares us down — not as a challenge, but as an attempt to mobilize. With the lines around us being erased and redrawn, the chance to form a new alliance with strangers is imminent. Consider this the soundtrack of a formidable rebuilding.