THE OLIVIA TREMOR CONTROL

OVERVIEW:
These guys released two lengthy albums that alternate experimental sound collages with lo-fi psychedelic retro-pop songs. I’m not a huge fan, but both of their records are crammed with ideas and energy. So if you like the Elephant 6 sound you need to hear them both at least once.

THE ALBUMS:

Dusk At Cubist Castle
Black Foliage *

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DUSK AT CUBIST CASTLE   (1996)

B

This band makes a lot of cool noise. But I don’t quite know how to feel about them. None of the “songs” really stand out too much. There is a great deal of too-derivative hook writing throughout. They sound incredibly similar to 60s Pink Floyd and The Pretty Things, which is sweet. And they play super experimental psych-pop without losing sight of the pop-side of things. That is also sweet. Yet for all the sweetness…this album doesn’t quite gel for me. There are moments of total beauty, total madness, and total excitement, mixed with a lot of forgettable ambient knob twisting tomfoolery. This album loses lots of points for me in the “presentation” department. It’s insanely overlong. It’s sequenced like a sandwich with all the catchy pop songs as the bread, and the “meat” of the album almost entirely devoted to sound-scapes full of cool noises. That makes for a tedious listen. This feels more like a collection of home recordings produced over a period of time rather than complete statement (I’m guessing that’s exactly what it is!). Criticisms aside, however, there is a lot of super impressive material on here, especially sonically. Not much of it moves me – but I must bow my head in respect. That’s how I feel about MOST of the Elephant 6 bands – a lot of talent and ideas, but missing a sense of true individuality.  It would be pointless to point out the high points when it comes to individual tracks on this record – it’s very much a collage type work, and nothing really sticks out of the fray. The most memorable pop songs are “Jumping Fences,” “Courtyard,” and closer “NYC-25.” I quite like the “Holiday Surprise” suite. There are ten tracks in the middle of the album all called “Green Typewriters,” which range in length from super short to super long and the whole “suite” is super forgettable. This is worth a listen, especially for a 60s pop fan. But it’s not a great record.

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BLACK FOLIAGE   (1999)

B+

This is the better of the two OTC albums, but they are sort of interchangeable. Things are now a bit more polished, a bit mellower, and everything sounds even MORE like “Parachute”-era Pretty Things. The album presentation has improved! There are even repeated themes (the title theme is played in multiple different arrangements scattered throughout the record). It’s still too long and hodge-podgy, but greater efforts have been made to present a “complete” sounding work. The first track is called “Opening” and the conclusion has an anthemic chorus. Most of the super-ambient noise has been spread out and worked into the pop compositions, or lumped into the 11 minute and very cool sounding but also very boring “The Bark and Below It” track. I haven’t mentioned “drugs” yet in relation to this band, because I have no idea whether or not they were drug dudes or just happened to love psychedelic music. But this album is very “druggy” in the sense of having mid-tempo, dreamy vocals, and lots of creepy off-putting special effects. I could imagine someone going nuts over this record – it’s packed to the brim with ideas and noises. The hooks aren’t mind-blowing, but they’re good enough to make each pop song very listenable – though nothing is particularly memorable. Again, I bow down to them with respect – even greater respect this time around – but I can’t say this really worked for me as more than a museum piece.

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