A Violent Happiness | Music Review | Chicago Reader

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A Violent Happiness

Ben Chasny, best known for the psych-folk of Six Organs of Admittance, cuts loose with Chris Corsano and Sir Richard Bishop.


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"I don't know if [Rangda] is jazz," Chasny says. "I do think it is a 'joyful noise,' and it feels good to play music that is joyful. I don't really do that very often. I just hope the joy is in there enough for others to feel it too. We were all sort of familiar with each other's playing; it wasn't a totally hard 'code' to crack. We wanted to have fun and improvise as much as possible as well as write a few tunes."

Chasny's output in other settings is frequently filed under neofolk or New Weird America, subgenres whose associations are with sun-soaked eureka or narcotic introversion. Rangda may be joyful, but the band's named for a Balinese child-devouring goddess, and its unrepentantly naked aggression evokes more than hippie love-ins.

Too much aggression tends to fatigue the players and bore the listeners. But False Flag's mix of improvisation and composition keeps the densest of its pieces loose, even sprawling. Corsano, physically and mentally tireless, lays a foundation of roiling polyrhythms. Chasny favors searing caterwauls, creating huge sheets of sound that alternate with frantic picking and dissolve in pure feedback—he hasn't sounded this unchained since 2005's Plays the Book of Revelations, an end-of-days duo with Echoplex wizard Noel Von Harmonson, his bandmate in Comets on Fire. Bishop grounds Chasny's wilder flights, concocting strange amalgams of classic rock and "world music." When Bishop assumes control, as on "Plain of Jars," the trio's cosmic God-bothering is reminiscent at times of the Grateful Dead's most aggressive live incarnation, captured on Live/Dead, and at others feels like a sublime homage to Nubian oud and tar player Hamza el Din.

At the record's core is the relentless shredding of "Waldorf Hysteria," "Fist Family," and "Serrated Edges." These three pieces toy with the primordial selflessness that experimental jazz guitarist Sonny Sharrock explored on his 1970 album Monkey-Pockie-Boo, but the musicians balance the descent into shapelessness by submitting to repetitive figures or restrictive protocols. For the raucous "Fist Family," they split into strings and skins factions; the guitars erect a house full of screaming cats while Corsano shakes its foundation.

"These songs could be charted on something of an improv/composed continuum, since each piece has a little of each," Chasny says. "Chris actually conceptualized 'Fist Family.' He wanted a song where the guitars are bending notes very close to each other in order to create the beats that happen with wavelengths when they are nearly in tune. When we asked what he was planning to do, he sort of just gave a 'don't worry about me' response and then it was done. I definitely see 'Fist Family' as more of a minimalist composition. But I guess one with maximalist drumming! We're only sliding between two notes the entire time. Corsano is the engine keeping that song flying."

Though many other contemporary ensembles operating in similar territory like to use foreboding or morbid imagery (Zorn's infamous jazz/metal/dub trio, Painkiller, called its first EP Guts of a Virgin), Chasny maintains that Rangda's music is inherently life-affirming.

"When we were coming up with song titles, Corsano said he'd like to stay away from death themes," he says. "I realize how easy it is to defer to themes like that, especially in our culture. I'm not talking about some bullshit hippie co-op shit. I mean, Trent Reznor can call his new band How to Destroy Angels and yes, it's a reference to Coil, but does he really think that's a statement? I'd be much more blown away if he had a title that showed he understood some sort of Avicennian-type angelology as it relates to a metaphysical epistemology, and how the loss of that cosmology has implications far more drastic than being big, bad, scary, and dark. Go through the thing, instead of trying to react against it.

"That is my point: take a stance and be violently joyful—because it's harder. The more bullshit that gets piled on, sometimes the more violent you have to be for happiness."   

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