|1. The Opera House|
|2. Frosted Ambassador|
|3. Jumping Fences|
|4. Define A Transparent Dream|
|5. No Growing (Exegesis)|
|6. Holiday Surprise|
|8. Memories Of Jacqueline 1906|
|9. Tropical Bells|
|10. Can You Come Down With Us?|
|11. Marking Time|
|12. Green Typewriters|
|13. Green Typewriters [Continued) 1|
|14. Green Typewriters [Continued) 2|
|15. Green Typewriters [Continued) 3|
|16. Green Typewriters [Continued) 4|
|17. Green Typewriters [Continued) 5|
|18. Green Typewriters [Continued) 6|
|19. Green Typewriters [Continued) 7|
|20. Green Typewriters [Continued) 8|
See all 27 tracks on this disc
As members of the Elephant 6 collective The Olivier Tremor Control share its love for classic pop music, psychedelia, and experimental sounds. And after eight years their debut 'Dusk at Cubist Castle' still sounds utterly fresh and completely unique.
There was a song writing house in NYC where the cleaners were collectively named 'Old Greys', and if the cleaners could whistle a song after hearing it once it had passed 'The Old Grey Whistle Test'. This is where the Olivier Tremor Control step in with their unabashed love for the classic pop music of 'Pet Sounds' and 'Sgt. Peppers', 'Dusk at Cubist Castle...' is an album so densley packed with melodies that one would like to imagine the Old Greys could whistle it from start to finish after just one spin. Alas the sheer sonic density of the compressed 4-track production combined with the more experimental tendencies of this album would most probably render such a feat impossible.
That's Ok though because its what makes this album one of such classic proportions; the fact that songs as wonderfully catchy and succinct as the 1.58 minute 'Jumping Fences' can sit along side the ten suite fuzzy tape manipulation of 'Green Typwriters' without sounding forced is a testament to the breadth and vision of this group. The densely layered vocal harmonies don't just imitate Paul McCartney and Brian Wilson, they sound like they were cut from the same cloth. High praise indeed, but when you sit down to listen to album as consistently surprising, satisfying, and downright catchy as this you'll know what I mean, it only saddens me that after eight years the rest of the world still hasn't caught on to what pop music is meant to be.
The album is a fantastic and endlessly fascinating combination of different styles, tempos, ideas and atmospherics, with the band taking on elements of early Pink Floyd, the Beach Boys and The Beatles to form the core backing of 60's trip-pop, alongside lingering traces of folk, krautrock, avant-garde expressionism, ambient noise, field recordings and the early hallmarks of a sound that would later become known as post-rock. As a result, every stylistic diversion seems perfectly judged, with the album creating that dreamy quality where songs distort and metamorphose into completely different songs, whilst repeated exposure eventually gives way to all manner of hidden sounds, voices, noises and motifs. Along with Neutral Milk Hotel's masterpiece, In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, I'd cite Dusk at Cubist Castle as a more alternative take on the territory of Radiohead's celebrated OK Computer, with both albums sharing the same loose conceptual edge, bizarre and varied approach to musicianship, and a stark and jarring combination of dissonant noise blurring seamlessly with traditional rock and pop structures.
Like their follow up album Black Foliage, as well as related records like On Avery Island, Black Swan Network and Circulatory System, the songs on Dusk at Cubist Castle (as well as the album's subtitle, Music from the Unrealised Film Script) seems to suggest the idea of a concept... though what it is remains vague and fragmented by the stretches of surreal, dreamlike lyrics, and the wild switches in style. The album even has a ten-song mini song cycle positioned in the middle of the album called Green Typewriters (which runs through tracks 12 to 22), which merges a variety of wild influences, including White Album-era Beatles and BBC field recording techniques, into one seamless sonic dreamscape. What it all means remains a mystery, though the All Music Guide suggests a story involving a pair of women named Olivia and Jacqueline, and a massive earthquake dubbed the California Demise... which makes sense, I suppose!!
The more you listen to the album, the more it takes a hold of you... At least half of the songs work as great pieces of pop, with the opening track The Opera House having a very modern style that is removed from the mock-60's referentialism of acts like the Apples in Stereo, The Dukes of Stratosphere and The Brian Jonestown Massacre. Jumping Fences, Define a Transparent Dream, No Growing (Exegesis), Holiday Surprise 1-3 and Memories of Jacqueline 1906 are all fine pop songs that have a touch of the Dukes circa 25 O' Clock about them, whilst also managing to present remnants of a sound that is more interesting and unique. The sound collages work well too, adding a depth to the songs that surround them, whilst further highlighting the bizarre concept at hand. Unlike "real" progressive acts of the 60's and 70's, the Olivia Tremor Control never seem to be adding noise or bizarre instrumentation simply because they can... in fact, it mostly seems like the songs were written and envisioned this way to begin with.
They also don't let the concept get in the way of the album as something to listen to for entertainment and enjoyment, with most of the songs possessing strong melodies, interesting lyrics and a great performance (or as great as you can get when recording on a four-track in someone's living room!!). The lo-fi aesthetic works great here (as it did for Neutral Milk Hotel, who recorded in a similar fashion at roughly the same time), with the songs benefiting from the warm fuzz of the instruments and the slightly muffled vocals, which to me, gives the songs a sense of intimacy that jars against the exotic sounds and the expansive concept. After four or five listens, the album makes sense, and flows seamlessly from beginning to end (Hart and Doss clearly taking a lot of care in the way the songs and the album have been sequenced!!), with the diverse and disorientating sound of each song eventually creating a bizarre and dreamlike mood that flows brilliantly from beginning to end. Dusk at Cubist Castle, along with the follow up Black Foliage, remains a great and continually interesting album from a greatly underrated band, and along with gems like In the Aeroplane over the Sea, On Avery Island and Circulatory System, is a continual highlight of the Elephant 6 Collective.
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