Olivia Tremor Control

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Dusk at Cubist Castle, 7.5/10
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

(Clicka qua per la versione Italiana)

Within the Elephant 6 movement of the 1990s, Olivia Tremor Control were purveyors of carefully crafted pop music that mimicks the mid-1960s 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.

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.

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