ANYONE TUNED INTO THE shifting tide of underground music culture knows the past few years have found us inundated with a new wave of postmodern folkies. Most of those who have risen through the ranks of the nü-folk movement slip easily into a basic few templates: (1) the gentle, bearded songwriter (Devendra Banhart, Iron and Wine) (2) the deconstructed hippie freak-out (Wooden Wand and the Vanishing Voice), and (3) the novelty act (Joanna Newsom). To his credit, Ben Chasny (AKA Six Organs of Admittance) has achieved a different kind of success—as a legitimate instrumentalist.
In no way a trend-watching opportunist, Chasny has churned out album after album of acoustic spellcasting since 1998. Initially born as a side project of his garage band, Comets on Fire, Six Organs has gone on to carve a well-earned niche for itself. Informed by artists as varied as Current 93 and Led Zeppelin, Chasny conjures dark clouds and taps ancient musical race memories with only his six string and a lonely baritone.
In the wake of John Fahey's death and the resurgence of the virtuosic guitar journeys as "viable art," some have been quick to herald Chasny as the new Fahey. While on the surface this might make some sense, the two couldn't be more different. Fahey was homely and disenchanted, the eternal outsider and oft-unappreciated genius. Chasny, on the other hand, is handsome and gregarious, schooled in decades of musical lore and adept at navigating the ins and outs of an increasingly hairy music industry.
Chasny's infamy has been fueled by his loose-cannon style of unpredictability, as a Six Organs performance can run the gamut from pensive trance inductions to guitar-smashing punk tantrums. Moody and complex, Chasny might seem like an anomaly in his chosen craft, but if the classic role of a folk musician, to mirror our turbulent society still rings true, I can't think of a better candidate.