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The Elephant 6 Collective Mixtape

1The Apples in Stereo
Fun Trick Noisemaker

"TIDAL WAVE" - We start off with the first proper song from the first proper band on the label. To me, this is the proto-typical Elephant 6 album, pretty much everything you'd ever expect from the collective--ultra-catchy, guitar-driven indie rock tunes pushing an experimental, neo-psychadelic (Pet) sound. Plus, lead singer Robert Schneider has his fingers on more E6 material than anyone else in the collective, as you'll see by the sheer amount of times I mention his name in this playlist. There's really no better way to start this playlist than with this song.
2Circulatory System
Circulatory System

"YESTERDAY'S WORLD" - One of the bands that formed after the demise of The Olivia Tremor Control, this one featured Will Cullen Hart and most of the previous band, minus Bill Doss (who formed The Sunshine Fix instead). Circulatory System employs a bit more the wall-of-sound production seen in The Apples, but it's still identifiably Psychadelic.
3The Minders
Hooray For Tuesdays

"HOORAY FOR TUESDAY" - The Minders started in Denver with four people, but for their first album they were joined by Robert Schneider and Hilarie Sydney of The Apples . The Minders are one of the more straightforward bands of E6, falling right in line with the psych-tinged indie rock that is typical of the musicians assocated with the collective. That means wall-of-sound production and catchy, guitar-driven melodies, just like this.
4Neutral Milk Hotel
In the Aeroplane Over the Sea

"HOLLAND, 1945" - The Schneider showcase continues, as he produced this whole record. This song is a high-energy, high tempo, tour-de-force of sound, but Neutral Milk Hotel on the whole isn't really indicative of the typical Elephant 6 faire. It leans closer to an indie sound rather than the Collective's notable signature Psychadelic revival, with Jeff Mangum's lyrics taking center stage throughout most tracks. Considering this album is one of the most critically lauded independent albums of all time, however, I suppose it works for them.
When Your Heartstrings Break

"SCORE FROM AUGUSTA" - Beulah is Pixies-meets-Pet Sounds perfection, as typified by the opening song of what might be their best album (not by a lot though). Technically, only their first album was released under the E6 label, but they've been closely associated with the label ever since. Their sound proves it--one of the major threads of the Collective's sound is a reverence for Brian Wilson-style harmonies and melodies, and this band has that in droves.
6Dressy Bessy
Pink Hearts Yellow Moons

"JUST LIKE HENRY" - This album has a lot less experimentation than you might expect of an E6 band, but the sound is so catchy and nostalgic that you don't really mind it. Tammy Ealom has such a great tone in her vocals, and the simplicity of the indie rock grooves allows you to lose yourself and just let the music play.
7Ulysses (US)

"GLACIER" - Robert Schneider's one-album side project, which formed as him and his wife/Apples bandmate were getting divorced (more on her in bit). Given the context, it makes sense that he'd want to take the sound in a different direction than the Apples. For example, the album as a whole was recorded in mono (as opposed to In Stereo, you see), with the entire band situated around one single microphone. It has more of a bite than most of the Apples' music, while also being darker in sound, production, and lyrics. Still, it's Schneider, so it's still sonically upbeat overall, and catchy as all hell. It's not on Spotify, so here is a YouTube link:
8The High Water Marks
Songs About The Ocean

"HAVE ANOTHER DREAM" - Around the time Schneider formed Ulysses, his soon-to-be-ex-wife and former Apples drummer Hilarie Sydney formed The High Water Marks. Very much like Dressy Bessy, this is straight-forward guitar-driven indie rock from Sydney and her new partner Per Ole Bratset, who both have lead vocal duties throughout the album. No surprises, just some good-old catchy, groovy, lo-fidelity music (and yes, I put them back-to-back in the playlist on purpose).
9The Ladybug Transistor
The Albemarle Sound

"MEADOWPORT ARCH" - The Ladybug Transistor is a band that is closely associated with The Essex Green, sharing four members between the two bands. The thing that attracts me to this band is the similarity I hear to one of my other favorite indie acts, Starflyer 59--specifically their middle albums (Talking Voice vs. Singing Voice, Old, etc.). The slower tempo and Gary Olson's baritone vocals really set them apart from a lot of the other E6 bands, but they are still firmly baroque, as demonstrated brilliantly in this song.
10The Olivia Tremor Control
Black Foliage: Animation Music Volume 1

"I HAVE BEEN FLOATED" - The Olivia Tremor Control is one of the three original bands of Elephant Six (along with The Apples and Neutral Milk Hotel), though its original incarnation included Jeff Mangum as a member. After Mangum left, the other two prominent songwriters, Will Cullen Hart and the late Bill Doss, would continue on with what many consider the quintessential Elephant 6 band. This song is one of their most well known, the main mid-tempo musical motif oozing intrigue and mystery like sap from Black Foliage, and musical saws in the background leaving the listener listeless and off-kilter.
Pyramid Landing & Other Favorites

"PYRAMID LANDING" - This album is a collection of recordings on Robert Schnieder's 4-track that predates the Apples and the OTC, when he and Will Cullen Hart lived together. Pyramid Landing is the centerpiece, a whimisical and lo-fi affair that honestly just makes you smile. The collection as a whole is somewhat all over the place, but it does give you a glimpse of the earliest days of E6 before it was actually E6.
12of Montreal
Cherry Peel

"DON'T ASK ME TO EXPLAIN" - With 16(!) studio albums to their name, Of Montreal is by far the most prolific band associated with the Elephant 6 Collective. The limit I placed on this list mainly refer to them, as there is absolutely no way to capture their sound without overloading the playlist. Still, if there's one album that both justifies their E6 creds and that I wish more people would listen to, it's their debut. The album, which features mastermind Kevin Barnes and Elf Power/Circulatory System album Derek Almstead, is just the purest ray of bubblegum indie rock out there, and actually doesn't bear much resemblence the pure psychadelic acid trip the band would become known for in the future...but more on that later. Don't pass this one up, please!
13The Sunshine Fix
Age of the Sun

"AGE OF THE SUN" - The late Bill Doss's band after the demise of The OTC, The Sunshine Fix is everything that a Beatles/Beach Boys affecianado could want. This album is exactly what it professes to be--sunshine on an album, "The Smile Sessions" if it were written by John Lennon. This track is just the opening, but it's pretty indicative of what you're getting into. If you want another track, try "Sail Beyond the Sunset."
14The Essex Green
The Long Goodbye

"THE LATE GREAT CASSIOPIA" - This song is how I was introduced the band, having been featured in a video by The Longboarding Girls Crew. The song is still my favorite by the band, but their best album might be 'Everything Is Green', which features highlights like "Primrose" and "Mrs. Bean." Why are they Elephant 6? Well...Robert Schneider personally asked them to join the collective. They've been associated ever since, a wonderful hidden gem of a group that needs more attention.
15Elf Power
When The Red King Comes

"NEEDLES IN THE CAMEL'S EYE" - This is a cover of a glam-era Brian Eno song, Elf-Powered up. It's the most straight-forward rock song on the entire list, and it's representative of but one of the many facets of this diamond-in-the-rough band. This particular album sees both Jeff Mangum and Will Cullen Hart make small appearances, and you can very clearly hear the influence of their respective bands in various tracks--"The Arrow Flies Close" flies close to the Aeroplane Over The Sea, and opener "Step Through the Portal" puts you right into Black Foliage. There's also more straight-forward rock in songs like "The Secret Ocean." All in all, Elf Power is a vital addition to any Collective collector's collection.
16A Hawk And A Hacksaw
A Hawk and a Hacksaw and the Hun Hangár Ensemble

"SERBIAN COCEK" - The drummer of Neutral Milk Hotel (Jeremy Barnes) steals away to Eastern Europe and begins playing the music of the region, eventually pairing up with a local ensemble group to release this EP. A Hawk and A Hacksaw's music is majority instrumental--as this song is--but there are a good portion of songs with lyrics (in English), which allows some E6 influence to come through. The band as a whole, however, is far, far removed from the Collective's typical sound, so be sure to remove all expectations of Barnes's former band before you dive into this hidden trove of Mediterranean music.
17of Montreal
Satanic Panic in the Attic

"RAPTURE RAPES THE MUSES" - I knew that I wanted to showcase 'Cherry Peel', but the second album I allowed myself proved very, very difficult to choose. Of Montreal have such a DEEP catalogue of outstanding music, and it took everything to not put anything from 'Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer?' To be clear, "The Past Is A Grotesque Animal" is the crowning acheivement of the band in my eyes, but this album might be my favorite as a whole. If you'd rather put "Disconnect The Dots" (as I almost did), or "Lysergic Bliss" on here instead, I wouldn't blame you, but "Rapture Rapes The Muses" is my second favorite on the album, top 10 in the band's discography, and the only song that kept the list under 80 minutes, lol.
18The Music Tapes
Music Tapes for Clouds and Tornadoes

"IN AN ICE PALACE" - Julian Koster, instrumental virtuoso and the backbone of Neutral Milk Hotel, records his more experimental material under the name The Music Tapes. Musically, the album isn't my cup of tea, but it is the most earnest thing I've ever heard this side of Daniel Johnston (whom I'm reminded of every time I listen to this album). A more typical Music Tapes song might be "Majesty" or "Freeing Song For Reindeer" (both are phenomenal tracks) but I really like the groove in this final track of the album. And for the playlist, it serves as a transition into slower, more introspective songs, mostly from bands we've heard from.
19The Apples in Stereo
Her Wallpaper Reverie

"STRAWBERRYFIRE" - Because there needed to be MORE Robert Schneider on this playlist. One of the Apples' signature songs, "Strawberryfire" is a the molasses-soaked musical equivialent to watching the paint melt off the wall during an acid trip. The album it comes on actually has more musical interludes than songs, but the songs that are on here are amazing and shouldn't be missed.
20Neutral Milk Hotel
On Avery Island

"NAOMI" - This iteration of Netural Milk Hotel is much different than the one that would make 'In The Aeroplane Over The Sea' three years later, with Jeff Mangum the only member that played on both (Robert Schneider was an actual member of the band on this album, but only produced the next one). The album--named after Avery Island, LA (home of Tabasco Sauce)--is a straight-forward affair with experimentation thrown in here and there ("Marching Theme" comes to mind), but its here where you can probably find the truest iteration of the NMH sound. "Naomi" exemplifies this, a mid-tempo, psych-tinged indie rock pushed forward by the prominent drums Schneider's organ playing the back track. Too long in the shadow of its younger brother, it really deserves just as much love.
21The Gerbils
The Battle Of Electricity

"LUCKY GIRL" - A side project of two members of Neutral Milk Hotel, The Gerbils were an amazing two-album project that showed incredible growth in a short time. This album, the second of the two, shows them maturing both in lyric and sound, moving away from Twee Pop and adding more experimental elements, without losing their core sound. This song, slow and meandering, is both a highlight of the album and a nice change of pace from the high-energy tracks that fill this playlist, which is why I chose it over the fast-tempo title track (which is probably my favorite from the album).
22The Olivia Tremor Control
Dusk at Cubist Castle

"NO GROWING (EXEGESIS)" - Continuing with the slower tracks, we see the straight 'Let-It-Be'-side that is "No Growing" as the penultimate track. I adore this song so much, not because it reminds me of the Beatles, but because it reminds me of the breadth of talent that this band has. "Jumping Fences" is the standout track not just of this album, but probably of the band as a whole, but this song is so simplistically groovy that despite wearing its influences on its sleeve, it feels the most genuine.
23Major Organ and the Adding Machine
Major Organ and the Adding Machine

"LIFE FORM (TRANSMISSION RECEIVED)" - And finally, at last, we come to the penultimate track from the only album by Major Organ, which despite E6 musicians swapping bands like they were trading cards, is the only official supergroup of the Collective. Literally every name I've mentioned on this list had a hand in creating this record, but who does what remains a mystery--I couldn't even tell you who sings this song, though I think it's either Kevin Barnes or Will Cullen Hart (Julian Koster, Jeff Mangum, and Robert Schneider also take lead vocal duties here and there). The album itself is a hodgepodge (or perhaps a spoof) of everything that Elephant 6 is known for thrown into a machine, with musical gobstoppers coming out. The end result is a physical rendition of E6 lore and history all packaged up and eventually tied up with a nice neat bow called "Life Form (Transmission Received)." A fitting send-off for this musical voyage into one of the most storied record labels of all time.
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