Review Summary: The Olivia Tremor Control's first record is a capricious journey into wonderland, a place teeming with optimism and escapism.
"There is no growing in knowing where you're going without the light inside." These are lyrics that can apply to music and a person's lifetime alike. Uncertainty can lead to glorious, unimaginable places and infinite opportunities, but only with a burning desire to better oneself. The Olivia Tremor Control, an underground indie outfit hailing from The Elephant 6 Recording Company, take this whimsical outlook and apply it to just about all the sounds they create. Criminally overlooked, the band revels in the middle ground between the gleeful and the perverse. Their first album Music from the Unrealized Film Script: Dusk at Cubist Castle
plays out like a soundtrack to an unforgettable ascent into wonderland, a place abound with balloons, sugar, and talking rabbits.
Dusk at Cubist Castle
's magnificence comes from its inborn capriciousness. At times the album is strikingly immediate and catchy, but there is almost always a bizarre conundrum waiting around the corner. Is it all a dream or an uncanny acid trip? The lack of absolutes makes the experience both immersive and bewitching. Also, The Olivia Tremor Control's influences are not concealed by any means and are instead graciously embraced. The Beatles and The Beach Boys instantly come to mind when hearing the band's lovely vocal melodies, nostalgic pop sensibilities, and ardent psychedelic tendencies. However, The Olivia Tremor Control prove themselves to be much more than imitators, taking their music further into quizzical territories but maintaining an impressive level of creativity and sweetness.
Thus, the band employs these tried and true techniques liberally and reach a blanketing state of surrealism. Right at the booming opener "The Opera House", the band is already walking on white fluffy clouds and sowing the album's seeds with exuberance. Most of the album's first half is straightforward relative to what comes later. "No Growing (Exegesis)", "Holiday Surprise 1,2,3", and "Courtyard" shimmer in sunlight and foster an inviting atmosphere with delightful guitars and accessible melodies. Bill Doss's voice is quite enjoyable in the context of the album, adding to the optimistic feeling for which the songs reach. "Jumping Fences" sounds like a pop number plucked right from the '60s, but tracks like "Can You Come Down with Us" hint at the imminent turns on the album.
Other tracks like "Marking Time" and "Memories of Jacqueline 1906" find the happy medium between approachability and eccentricity. "Marking Time" delivers some stunning vocal hooks supplemented by quiet piano, and "Memories of Jacqueline 1906" shines with boisterous enthusiasm before tangling itself in a web of cacophony. Once "Green Typewriters" arrives however, there is no discernible ground to walk upon and the listener becomes lost in a world of imagination. To make things even more disorienting, ten individual tracks share this exact same title, each presenting a different snapshot of the band's pursuit of the unfathomable. Among this suite, the band even explores aspects of ambient, drone, and noise rock. One of these tracks almost reaches the ten minute mark with a wave of sounds that include dripping water, passing cars, chattering birds, and airplanes flying overhead. Despite these recognizable sounds that are capable of bringing the listener back down to earth, the ongoing unfamiliar sounds that billow behind them suggest that these are simply products of an intoxicated mind.
However, the overwhelming suite reaches an encouraging conclusion with its final iteration, my favorite of the bunch, where Doss sings "When you're ready to come back down, I'll be waiting here.", almost promising that the dream state is merely ephemeral. On the other hand, the lasting impact that this album leaves is perennial, sticking with the listener long after its stimulating effects have faded. Tracks like "Spring Succeeds" and "NYC-25" present some nice surprises toward the backend of the record as well. "NYC-25" feels like the perfect closer, pleading with the listener not to remain in this dreamy world too long so as not to miss out on the joys of life. Something about it feels incredibly candid, and it ends the album in a positive light. The Olivia Tremor Control prove themselves to be both captivating and baffling. Thus, uplifting songwriting and complex experimentation play an equal role in making the album memorable.
While many of the tangents upon which the band embarks are extremely dizzying, the band never fails to charm with their endearing take on psychedelic pop. The Olivia Tremor Control display a firm commitment to fantasy and are flexible with the elements they bring into their songs, whether they be discordant instruments playing out of key or blissful arpeggios that push the listener into unanticipated sensations. It's easy to draw comparisons to bands like The Beatles, but this band is doing a lot more than paying tribute to its influences; it's warping their styles and pushing the constraints of pop music in fun and exciting ways. Through and through, Dusk at Cubist Castle
is an album of wishful thinking.
No Growing (Exegesis)
Memories of Jacqueline 1906
Green Typewriters [X]
The Opera House
Green Typewriters [VIII]