Olivia Tremor Control

(Copyright © 1999 Piero Scaruffi | Legal restrictions - Termini d'uso )

Dusk at Cubist Castle, 7/10
Black Foliage, 7/10
Frosted Ambassador: Frosted Ambassador , 5/10
Sunshine Fix Project: Age Of The Sun , 5/10
Circulatory System: Circulatory System , 6.5/10
Circulatory System: Signal Morning (2009), 6/10

Within the Elephant 6 movement, Olivia Tremor Control are purveyors of carefully crafted pop music that mimicks the mid Sixties with a nod to modern production techniques. Formed in Athens (Georgia) by lead singer Bill Doss, visual artist and main songwriter William Cullen Hart, Peter Erchick, drummer Eric Harris and John Fernandes, the OTC debuted in 1994 with the EP California Demise that already contained two melodic gems such as Love Athena and Today I Lost a Tooth. It was followed by the equally enjoyable EP The Giant Day (Drug Racer, 1996), whose highlight is the title-track. The two EPs are compiled on Singles And Beyond (Kindercore, 2000).

Their 27-song album Music From the Unrealized Film Script: Dusk at Cubist Castle (Flydaddy, 1996) is a tour de force of eccentric and oneiric pop arrangements, one of the most adventurous albums ever produced in this genre, and a veritable miracle given the home-recording circumstances in which it was born. Steering away from the Beatles' yawn-inducing faux-avantgarde, and instead endorsing the naive spirit of early Pink Floyd (Memories Of Jacqueline 1906, Holiday Surprise 1,2,3, The Opera House, Can You Come Down With Us), enhancing Beach Boys-ian harmonies with gusto (Jumping Fences), and revisiting the hippie spirit of mid-period Byrds with the surgical eye of the new wave (Define A Transparent Dream, most of the 10-song suite Green Typewriters), the OTC coin a new genre of rock music, one that Dada and Marinetti would have loved, one that Pere Ubu would have hummed and that would have taken the Cabaret Voltaire by storm.

The album was followed by three EPs that seemed to clarify the technique and the philosophy of the band. Explanation II (Flydaddy, 1997) is ambient instrumental music via collage art. The Late Music (Camera Obscura, 1997), credited to Black Swan Network, is a similar hodgepodge of avantgarde music (basically, the experimental side of Dusk at Cubist Castle). vs Black Swan Network (Flydaddy, 1997) is even more eccentric, but returns to the song format with brilliant results.

Black Foliage (Flydaddy, 1999), the second full-length album, boasts 27 songs, but many of them are mere fragments of music. Again, it is not the catchy refrains or the captivating bridges that matters, it is the manically crafted sonic events of the arrangements. Each song is enhanced with countless instruments and often cacophonous counterpoints. Many "songs" (the ones titled Combinations and Black Foliage) are actually experimental compositions that rely on chance and cut-up, more like Frank Zappa than any pop musician (albeit only a few seconds long). Even the regular songs, the melodic gems for which the band came to be known, are mini-collages of oddities and spaced-out harmonies that are more in line with, say, Mercury Rev than with the Beatles or the Beach Boys. The album in its entirety can be viewed as one giant, frantic collage, a work of pop-art a` la Andy Warhol. As for the building bricks themselves, the inspiration ranges from circus music (A Peculiar Noise) to funereal brass bands (Grass Canons), but, again, constantly revised through a surreal filter (the latter is, de facto, a mini concerto of percussions). Plus frequent nods to the vocal harmonies of the Beach Boys (Hideway, probably the standout of the album), heaps of sunny Californian folk-rock stereotypes (A New Day), with at least one faithful recreation of the Turtles (A Sleepy Company) and one of Eight Miles High-era space-rocking Byrds (A Place We Have Been To).
On the minus side, too many compositions (The Sylvan Screen, Mystery) are simply direction-less, self-indulgent exercises in sticking soundbits together; and a few (I Have Been Floated), Another Set Of Bees In The Museum) are what one hopes is a parodistic exaggerations of the Beatles' faint bridges, which are an acquired taste anyway The stylistic tour de force is supposed to be The Bark And Below It, an experimental 11-minute tape collage, but turns out to be a far cry from what remains rock's masterpiece in this genre (the Fugs' Virgin Forest).
One may be mistaken into thinking this is a dreadful Magical Mystery Tour part II, when in fact it is Phil Spector's production technique (of massive overdubbing) coupled with early Pink Floyd's languid ecstasy.
The operation has its merits, but, truth be told, by the 20th song you can't wait for the CD to come to an end. It begins to feel more like a torture than a delight. The OTC has not successfully managed to fuse conceptual collage art and mass market muzak, although it has provided the world with an outstanding blueprint, not to mention some serious successes on both fronts.

After this album, the OTC rapidly dissolved. Singles And Beyond (Kindercore, 2000) collects singles (including such delightful rarities as The Princess Turns The Key To Cubist Castle and Gypsum Oil Field Fire) and EPs in one convenient 20-track album.

(Translation by / Tradotto da Massimiliano Osini)

All'interno del movimento Elephant 6, gli Olivia Tremor Control sono gli artefici di una musica pop di attenta costruzione che rievoca gli anni sessanta attraverso le moderne tecniche di produzione. Formati ad Athens (Georgia) dal cantante Bill Doss, dall'artista visivo e principale compositore William Cullen Hart, da Peter Erchick, dal batterista Eric Harris e da John Fernandes, gli OTC debuttarono nel 1994 con l'EP California Demise che gia' conteneva due gemme melodiche come Love Athena e Today I Lost a Tooth. In seguito venne pubblicato l'altrettanto gradevole The Giant Day (Drug Racer, 1996), il cui vertice e' rappresentato dalla title-track.

Il loro primo album Music from the Unrealized Film Script: Dusk at Cubist Castle (Flydaddy, 1996) contiene 27 canzoni ed e' un tour de force di arrangiamenti pop eccentrici ed onirici, uno dei piu' avventurosi album mai prodotti nel genere e un vero miracolo se si pensa ai mezzi "casalinghi" con cui fu concepito. Allontanandosi dalla noiosa pseudo-avanguardia dei Beatles e abbracciando la spontaneita' dei primi Pink Floyd (Memories of Jacqueline 1906, Holiday Surprise 1,2,3, The Opera House, Can You Come Down with Us), migliorando le armonie dei Beach Boys con gusto (Jumping Fences), e rivisitando lo spirito hippie dei Byrds con lo sguardo chirurgico della new wave (Define a Transparent Dream, gran parte della suite in dieci movimenti Green Typewriters), gli OTC coniano un genere di musica rock che avrebbe potuto essere apprezzato da Dada e Marinetti, che i Pere Ubu avrebbero canticchiato volentieri e che avrebbe trasportato la fantasia dei Cabaret Voltaire.

L'album fu seguito da tre EP coi quali la band affino' la propria tecnica e filosofia. Explanation II (Flydaddy, 1997) e' una musica ambientale deviata verso il collagismo, The Late Music (Camera Obscura, 1997), accreditato a Black Swan Network, opera un simile raffazzonamento sulla musica d'avanguardia. vs Black Swan Network (Flydaddy, 1997) e' ancora piu' eccentrico, seppur riportando lo stile sul formato canzone con brillanti risultati.

Black Foliage (Flydaddy, 1999) stipa 27 canzoni, ma la gran parte di esse sono meri frammenti di musica. Ancora una volta non sono tanto gli accattivanti ritornelli a dare l'impronta all'opera, quanto il maniacale assemblamento di frammenti sonori e curiosi arrangiamenti. Il valore di ogni canzone e' accresciuto attraverso l'uso di numerosi strumenti e l'nserimento di contrappunti cacofonici. Molte "canzoni" sono in effetti composizioni sperimentali che sfruttano l'aleatorieta' e il cut-up avvicinandosi piu' a Frank Zappa che ad altri musicisti pop. Combinations e Black Foliage ritornano piu' volte (benche' per pochi secondi) a ripetere lo stesso tema con diversi arrangiamenti. Anche i brani piu' convenzionali, gemme melodiche che, ricondotte a un formato meno eccentrico, potrebbero far conoscere il gruppo al grande pubblico, sono mini-collages di stranezze e armonie spaziali piu' in linea con i Mercury Rev che con i Beatles o i Beach Boys.
L'album nel suo complesso puo' essere visto come un unico, gigantesco, frenetico collage, un'opera di pop-art alla Andy Warhol. Per quel che riguarda i singoli mattoni presi di per se', l'ispirazione corre dalla musica circense (A Peculiar Noise) alle bande che seguono i funerali (Grass Canons), ma ancora una volta ogni fonte e' costantemente sottoposta a un filtro surreale (il secondo e', di fatto, un mini concerto di percussioni). Pió frequenti sono i cenni alla armonie vocali dei Beach Boys (Hideway, probabilmente l'apice melodico del disco), le sovrapposizioni di stereotipi del solare folk-rock californiano (A New Day), con almeno una fedele riproposizione dei Turtles (A Sleepy Company) e una dei Byrds piu' spaziali (A Place We Have Been To). D'altro canto, pero', troppe composizioni (The Sylvan Screen, Mystery) si rivelano inconcludenti, semplici esercizi di sovrapposizione di frammenti sonori. Altre (I Have Been Floated, Another Set of Bees in the Museum) si spera siano parodistiche esagerazioni degli sdolcinati passaggi dei Beatles, tanto il loro gusto melodico e' datato. In ogni caso il tour de force stilistico sembra essere The Bark and Below It, un collage sperimentale di undici minuti che pero' si risolve in un flebile eco di cio' che rimane dei capolavori del genere (Virgin Forest dei Fugs, ad esempio).
Si puo' addirittura pensare di stare ascoltando un orripilante Magical Mystery Tour parte II, quando ci si accorge che in realta' si tratta di un improbabile incontro tra le tecniche di sovrincisione di Phil Spector e la languida estasi dei primi Pink Floyd. L'operazione ha senz'altro i suoi meriti, ma in vero, arrivati alla ventesima canzone non si vede l'ora che il cd finisca. Alla fine sembra piu' una tortura che una delizia. Gli OTC non sono riusciti appieno a fondere l'arte concettuale del collage con la musica di massa, benche' abbiano fornito al mondo un eccellente progetto, per non parlare di qualche innegabile successo su entrambi i fronti.

Dopo quest'album, purtroppo, gli OTC sembrarono dissolversi rapidamente. Bill Doss diede vita a un progetto parallelo, Sunshine Fix Project. Frosted Ambassador e' invece la band del batterista Eric Harris, autore anch'egli di un album in proprio.

Singles and Beyond (Kindercore, 2000) raccoglie singoli ed EP in unico album da 20 tracce, includendo qualche deliziosa rarita' come The Princess Turns the Key to Cubist Castle e Gypsum Oil Field Fire).

Eric Harris' side project Frosted Ambassador (Kindercore, 1999) is a foggy psychedelic trip.

William Cullen Hart started Circulatory System, whose debut album, Circulatory System (Cloud, 2001), is a slower, mellower, moodier version of OTC's music. The arrangements are still manically crafted, the melodies soar like baroque palaces, the rhythms invite to sing along. Not a note is new, but the hard-rocking Yesterday's World is a worthy addition to the Beatles' Magical Mystery Tour, Diary Of Wood steals a melodic progression from the Turtles, As trivial and facile as they are, the melodies can briefly peek into a different dimension, like the ethereal singalong Joy and the tribal fanfare A Peek do. Hart indulges in the march tempo favored by the Merseybeat hits of the early 1960s, and eventually offers a parody of it in The Lovely Universe. and a cruel transfiguration of it in Waves Of Bark And Light. The real gems are the non-derivative pieces, in which the song format is wildly revolutionized by a dadaistic mind, notably Outside Blasts. Half of the pieces could have been sacrificed in the name of efficiency (he obviously runs out of ideas towards the end), but those that work are indeed cute.

Bill Doss started Sunshine Fix Project. Age Of The Sun (Emperor Norton, 2002) is basically a Beatles tribute album without any Beatles cover song. The songs are terribly homogeneous, and the album as a whole is terribly uneventful. Green Imagination (2004) is even more basic.

Peter Erchick's side-project Pipes You See Pipes You Don't released Individualized Shirts (2001).

While battling multiple sclerosis, Will Cullen Hart of Olivia Tremor Control resumed his Circulatory System project for Signal Morning (Cloud, 2009), a schizophrenic exercise of intricate arrangements and surreal collages. A chaotic mind designs the drumming and electronics nightmare Woodpecker Greeting Worker Ant, the frenzied distorted techno feast Overjoyed, the industrial singalong Blasting Through The real songs (such as This Morning, rich in guitar effects, Signal Morning 2, an Indian-infected litany that dissolves in an alien psychedelic coda, and Round Again, a shoegazing version of the Beatles' Magical Mystery Tour) are the exceptions, not the rule.

The schizoid Music from the Unrealized Film Dusk at Cubist Castle (2011) contains the lengthy collage Green Typewriters.

Bill Doss died in july 2012 at the age of 44.

(Translation by/ Tradotto da xxx)

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