Records roll around, the needle navigating on through grooves going places both unknown and unreal. Somewhere amidst these thirty-third turns there is a theoretical Texas, all tall buildings and flat lands of poetic expanse. Then there is an England bleak but burning in soft smolders of languorous longing. And in the fine white lines of Cass McCombs’ PREfection there is an address for a new New York.

Not that there’s anything wrong with the New York we’ve got. Believe me, I’m thankful for most everything it’s had to offer these past few years. But Cass moves beyond (or may be past) to a place of more subtly sophisticated charm. PREfection is a new New York record drawing on a range of old city standards. It’s the sound of a more literate and less snotty Strokes, a Lou Reed listening to The Smiths in his teens, or a stateside John Lennon letting loose his primal screams and moving back to melody. It is all-at-once calming, claustrophobic and completely captivating.

As if to escape the singer-songwriter stigma that’s stuck with him since his debut, Cass has made PREfection as dependent on sonics as songs. The record as a whole is awash in reverb and swelling sounds swooning to their own sweet swirling timbre. His wit is ever-present as ever proclaiming “all four horsemen are you” and “ping-ping goes the shovel” as he’s off to “bury Mary” but these lines are all but lost amongst the thumb-strumming bass and stutter-drumming propulsivity that speeds the record to an untimely end. The playing is relentless and impulsive, a perfect complement to Cass’ own irascible aesthetic. Such arrangements set in the foggy haze of the record's defining atmospherics place PREfection into an indeterminable era transcending both tradition and progression.

Still there persists Cass’ singular voice. As much as he may hide it in effects or affectation, his informally indelible sense melody instantaneously ingratiates almost every song. Channeling a host of misanthropes from Bowie to Morrissey, these humble hooks come through like transmissions from a future past spreading through a sea of cough syrup.

Atop the rainy-day backdrop of PREfection’s fuzzy frenetics these lines detail the sprawling cityscape of the new New York contained in this one record. It’s a place of dreamy desperation and imminently mutable beauty. That the record was recorded in Michigan or released on a label from Maryland doesn’t matter as much as where it takes you. While that destination may differ from listener to listener, I recommend at least a layover in this new city that it’s shown me. But be forewarned before you get there, its grace is of a state that once it’s seen you’ll find it hard to ever leave.

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School of the Flower

There’s something surely cinematic about Ben Chasny’s latest Six Organs of Admittance record. School of the Flower sweeps through scene-setting soundscapes with each song establishing its own unique emotive complement. It plays like the score and soundtrack to a sad film something like what Wes Anderson could be concocting for the future. I suggest Anderson here as the indelible signature of his work seems to follow the flow of Chasny’s own aesthetic. Though their styles are not entirely identical, there are some striking similarities.

Most immediately recognizable is that both artists share a sense of timelessness. Though they put a toehold down in the 1960’s they reach forward to the future with a grasping reach that obscures any set date in time. Anderson accomplishes this through wardrobe, sets, and his superb soundtracks. Chasny achieves the same effect by blending styles of songcraft. “Saint Cloud” fuses the finger-picked folk raga of John Fahey with the over-amped doom-drone of Sunn 0))). “School of the Flower” augments that initial formula with free-jazz drumming and psychedelic fretwork freakouts. The fusion is all at once fresh and familiar, both cutting-edge and comforting.

This cozy quality conjures up another commonality between Chasny and Anderson in that both artists are prone to forgivable fits of sentimentality. Anderson sets his quirky characters against impossibly beautiful backdrops and shoots it all in slow-motion just to make certain the scene sinks in. Still he does so with such stylistic grace that any overt play at pathos is at worse endearing but more often then not entirely moving. Similarly, Chasny does his best Nick Drake on “Words for Two” but succeeds on the strength of his delivery. Even his most clichéd folkisms merely remind listeners of the ready potential for beauty inherent in the genre. In this way both artists manage to transcend the limitations of their medium by embracing these shortcomings and deftly directing them toward desired intent.

If any significant difference between both folk-singer and the film-maker is most readily noticeable, it’s Chasny’s lack of playfulness. The campy energy and eccentric frivolity of movies like Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums are entirely absent on School of the Flower. Any film befitting this records would surely be a sad one bursting with bittersweet longing. Still it’s worth noting that Chasny does double-duty in psyche-rockers Comets On Fire who can hold their own with any given Creation tune. So it’s not that Chasny is incapable of raucous raging as much as Six Organs of Admittance is not the appropriate vehicle for those explorations. Six Organs of Admittance remains Chasny’s channel for delicate beauty, extended reflection, and enlightenment inducing contemplation.

This again brings up Anderson and another issue of time. So supersaturated with detail of design and urgency of emotion, both Anderson and Chasney’s works are so completely captivating that they obliterate any sense of time’s passing. Rushmore runs just over 90 minutes but covers so much emotional and scenic terrain that it seems much longer. Conversely The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou ends at almost two full hours but still seems over far too soon. Chasny performs this same feat squeezing so much beauty into “Words for Two” that it seems to run well beyond the two-minute mark it fails to make while “School of the Flower” seems to end abruptly after running nearly a quarter of an hour. Clearly both artists are masters of narrative progression within their respective mediums.

That Chasny’s work is so readily comparable to the films of Wes Anderson suggests that he is not only an as-yet untapped resource well-suited to scoring cinema but already an accomplished artist of his own making. As at home as his work may be within a film, it also holds its own in the hearts and ears of listeners.

Download and listen to "Words for Two"

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Buy Rushmore because it's seriously the best movie ever