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The Olivia Tremor Control

Music from the Unrealized Film Script, Dusk at Cubist Castle [re-issue]

(Cloud Recordings; US: 3 Feb 2004; UK: Available as import)

The label in the center of The Giant Day, the Olivia Tremor Control‘s second seven inch, details the side effects of a drug called Ketamine Hydrochloride. This anesthetic, known to the carefree elite as “Special K”, is used most often in a veterinary capacity, but it has inevitably found its way into the hands of those other than doctors. The effects of a Special K party are described as vivid and even comparable to a “dream-like (state of) delirium”, according to the record label. The first side of the hallucinatory Giant Day seven inch, the band’s Drug Racer Records offering, concludes a dream-like state of delirium by spinning into a locked groove that incessantly loops a whining backward organ track and the record must then be flipped. This EP, in addition to the OTC’s California Demise debut EP, grabbed enough attention to warrant an album for the band in 1996 which has since become an indie pop classic.


The Olivia Tremor Control made the Giant Day noise, and then proceeded to make some more noise. But the follow-up noise was enough to fill a full-length album on Flydaddy Records. This concept record, Music from the Unrealized Film Script, Dusk at Cubist Castle, coincided with the ubiquitous message board discussion topic known as the Elephant 6 Collective. In Athens, Georgia, the OTC helped develop this artistic collective as one of its core bands before they disbanded after the release of their second LP. Now, their debut full-length, still as strong a record as it ever was, has been re-released as its original home (Flydaddy Records) folded after the band called it quits. Fortunately, every special moment has been preserved on this Cloud Recordings re-release, from the sleeve’s stunning artwork to its mind-blowing psychedelic symphonies.


The Olivia Tremor Control (and most of their E6 peers) called heavily on the psych-pop of the 1960s as they prepared the Dusk at Cubist Castle album. Even though they were far enough entrenched in the madness that surfaced on the Beach Boys’ Smile bootlegs and Pink Floyd’s The Piper at the Gates of Dawn LP, the OTC’s affection for the classic hooks of “Don’t Worry Baby” and “If I Needed Someone” sneak through on even the messiest of tracks here. Dusk is undeniably an ode to all that made 1967 so special, but the band is too headstrong in its own direction to be simply pushed aside as a replica of British and California psychedelia.


Dusk at Cubist Castle‘s creative examples of songcraft come not from leaders Bill Doss and Will Hart’s love for the Byrds, but rather the blend of their interest in pop’s most decadent era and their childlike investigation of what dreams are made of. Their fixation on nocturnal thought processes emerges here in Dusk‘s dream-heavy lyrics, not to mention in the slew of releases and projects following this one (see: Black Swan Network, Circulatory System). This investigation of dreams underscores what has been deemed the neo-psychedelia that characterizes Dusk in its most obvious form, on “Define a Transparent Dream”.


The circling vocals on “Define” ponder what will have to be done to uncover what happens under the covers: “Feel the atmosphere breathe with life / Model portrait heads of Gertrude Stein / Define a transparent dream”. While the seeds for this sort of hypothetical forging were planted by the Electric Prunes some time ago, it takes a latent and somewhat challenging form toward the end of Dusk as an experimental collage called “Green Typewriters” soaks up a whopping nine tracks. This doesn’t just become an atmospheric mess, however. The soundscapes in “Typewriters” are cleverly interspersed with bits and pieces of Beatlesque structured pop, rescuing it from boring self-indulgence.


The band effectively steers clear of self-indulgence for the record’s entirety. This may have been a feat of monstrous proportions perhaps because of the OTC’s ever-present eagerness to completely displace the listener. Attempts at disrupting the psyche are made with the spacious droning blurs in the aforementioned “Typewriters” and in the lighter, breezy sway of “N.Y.C. -25”. This, the album’s closer, works as a chipper counterpart to “The Silvery Light of a Dream” on the Apples’ Tone Soul Evolution, simply because “NYC” is just long enough, trailing out into unfinished disorientation.


The Olivia Tremor Control manage to completely pull off the lost classic sound that they’d been associated with on Dusk at Cubist Castle. By adhering to the strict and completely bizarre ritual of searching out new sounds via experimenting with four-track recorders and trying to interpret fragments of song ideas, the band recalls some of pop’s finest elements while offering a great deal of new ones. The ideas conveyed here complement fittingly the lush artwork drawn for the record by its two founders in that the unique sonic compositions can be seen as a single, simultaneous tribute to both Salvador Dali and Syd Barret. Dusk‘s re-release is imperative, both to remind admirers of the album’s once-shelved treasures, as well as to delight newcomers with its weird music box of secrets.

Dominic Umile is a writer based in Brooklyn, NY. His work has recently appeared in The Brooklyn Rail, The Chicago Reader, The Comics Journal, and more. Follow: @dominicumile | Email: dominic.umile@gmail.com | about.me/dominicumile


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6 Aug 2012
Bill Doss' loss, for fans of indie and experimental music, is enormous. But it is also tragic news for anyone who loves sheer, thrillingly melodic pop music.
8 Nov 2011
Overall, there is much to admire and frown upon in equal measure when it comes to Dusk at Cubist Castle and, more especially, Black Foliage.
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