The Olivia Tremor Control – Music From The Unrealized Film Script, Dusk At Cubist Castle
Neutral Milk Hotel may have been more popular and the Apples In Stereo more accessible, but no other band epitomized the Elephant 6 Collective’s ideals quite like the Olivia Tremor Control. And this is especially true of their bewildering and exceptional debut record, Music From The Unrealized Film Script, Dusk At Cubist Castle. If the E6’s M.O. was, to be reductive, to update 60’s psych-pop with more modern underground styles of music, OTC achieved that and then some with this album. Adding elements of Krautrock, post-rock, ambient, noise and tape loops into their stew of Beatlesque psychedelia, Beach Boys harmonies and folk-rock, the band touches on anything and everything it can during Castle‘s 27-song sprawl, somehow remaining friendly and cohesive even when the homespun production makes things feel fragmented and unstable. Listen to how “Holiday Surprise 1, 2, 3” whips from bright, sunny pop to a murky, trippy drone to a tough, swirling rocker without skipping a beat. And would any other band of the era have dare attempted something like “Green Typewriters,” a ten-part suite that ambles from melancholy psych-pop to avant-garde rumblings to ambient soundscapes and back again?
Of course, all of this stylistic ambition and musical extremism wouldn’t be as bracing or as interesting as it is without great songs, and from its propulsive opener, “The Opera House,” to the sighing “NYC-25,” Dusk At Cubist Castle is teeming with them. The brilliance lies in how Will Cullen Hart and Bill Doss’ songwriting never settles for simple retro revivalism, always taking unpredictable melodic turns into evocative territory. The overlapping harmonies and romantic confusion of “Jumping Fences” sums up much of the album’s appeal in less than two minutes; Doss’ vocals fill “Marking Time” with a palpable yearning; the lush, wide-eyed “No Growing (Exegesis)” is genuinely uplifting, while “Define A Transparent Dream” reworks “Dear Prudence” as a surrealistic dream that manages to rhyme “define” with “Gertrude Stein.” There might be a little too much slack towards the end, yet Dusk At Cubist Castle remains the quintessential, if not the absolute greatest, Elephant 6 album as well as one of the landmark records of the neo-psychedelia movement.