I can't say that I miss the dubious products of many '70s prog-rock purveyors, but I do miss the bravado that sparked their questionable undertakings. Bolstered by lengthy studio sessions, abundant musical training, and chemical assistance, '70s progsters had absolutely no qualms about demonstrating their unbounded musical worldview. How else to explain the faux-Asiatic meanderings of Jade Warrior, the classical warhorses Tomita interpreted on wheezy synthesizers, and the flat-out strangeness of Rick Wakeman solo albums? That invigoratingly unfettered spirit lives on in the Japanese collective Ghost and the one-man guitar mystic outfit Six Organs of Admittance, though in a somewhat tempered form.
To call Ghost's latest album "expansive" is to limit it: The group tears through genres like a high school football team going to work on the Old Country Buffet carving station. The opening title track moves swiftly from spooky, modal space-jazz to squonky fusion before concluding with a lush, high-octane ending that suggests the band listened closely (too closely, some might say) to the Moody Blues' Days of Future Passed. Elsewhere, delicate covers of super-obscure songs by Earth & Fire and Syd Barrett join awkwardly accurate re-creations of vintage psychedelia and tough, almost tribal interludes. If there's a continuous thread to these tracks, it's lynchpin Masaki Batoh's reedy but likeable vocals and his wicked guitar.
More subdued and elegant, though no less ambitious, is the expanded re-reissue of Six Organs of Admittance's The Manifestation. Originally released on a gorgeous, one-sided vinyl EP in 2000, the album includes the title track's 22-minute folk raga, which features one of Ben Chasny's prettiest melodies and warmest vocals: The line "Friendship is sun/Under the moon" clings to your consciousness like post-show cigarette smoke on your jacket, but in a far more pleasant way.
Chasny weaves the legacy of "The Manifestation" into the disc's second track, 2004's "The Six Stations." In a conceptual move that will surely send record collectors and audio repair technicians into conniptions, he plays the etched second side of the original "Manifestation" vinyl as a backdrop for his meandering, evocative guitar. There's also a whimsical spoken interlude by Current 93's David Tibet that can only be described as disturbingly pastoral and that, surprisingly enough, doesn't interrupt the flow of the piece.
Or maybe that's not so surprising: Chasny often takes chances with his music that most sane folks would eschew. "The only thing we need is the thing that fails," he sings on "The Manifestation." By risking failure, Chasny manages to achieve moments of artistic enlightenment that more clear-headed counterparts never muster.
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