Olivia Tremor Control
Music from the Unrealized Film Script: Dusk at Cubist Castle/Black Foliage: Animation Music Volume One
Collector’s Item. Vinyl reissue in limited edition. Nearly impossible to find. Big Bux on eBay. Hot lead to hip Coolster Record Collectorites, or unlistenable mess of sound effects? Damned if I can sort this out, but let’s hold hands and explore together on this four-CD journey. If we stick close, don’t panic, and keep a live Internet connection, we might just get out of this cabin in the woods alive.
There are two “name” CDs here, and then two discs of bonus material. I’ll start with Black Foliage and its soundscape that ranges from Beach Boys style harmonizing on “Hideaway” to snips of sampled synthesizer and found sounds. When writing and singing songs, there’s a feeling of 1960s experimentalism: “Sleepy Company” might be an outtake from The White Album, “Grass Cannon” might work in an Arthur Lyman faux-Polynesian dinner dancing set. Yet the 11-minute “The Ark and Below It” is experimental music at its most self indulgent — odd notes from randomly selected symphonic instruments mimic but do not excite, as does a pre-concert tuning up phase. Sound bites tuck in between the more conventional pop tunes, and I’m hoping these were somehow related to a modernist animation that only played once at the Tribeca Film Fest but was lost when the projector caught fire. One can always hope.
Next on the Winamp soundslip we encounter Unrealized Film Script: Dusk at Cubist Castle. The opening “The Opera House” mixes electric weirdness with solid guitar playing and you’re soon rocking out like you’ve found a new love affair with the band. Abruptly we slide from rock ‘n’ roll to a one-minute session in the Tiki Lounge for a “Frosted Ambassador,” and then back to the pop-flavored Todd Rundgren sound-alike “Jumping Fences.” When these guys set out to make a sound style they master it instantly, but what’s missing when you sit down to listen is a thematic thread. Put your music box on random play: first The Beatles, then Little Feat, a splash of early Neil Young, and a chaser of late Iron Butterfly. While most of these songs will stand alone, I’m apprehensive when tracks switch and constantly shift musical gears. If there’s an overarching style, it’s not apparent after three or four listens… Or is it? Damn, they’ve grafted pop-rock onto cool jazz. And they used a kazoo!
There’s bonus material, over three hours of it, and none of it for the faint of heart. The Dusk collection begins with nine tracks (about an hour) of ambient soundscapes — subtle musical instruments, rain storms, odd bleating sounds. I won’t say it’s a set you’d focus on, but while I’m typing along, it’s strangely soothing and good at blocking out the ambient noise of a slightly busy office. The following two tracks “Black Swan Network” come off as more aggressive, more clanky, and more robot dance-centric. This is less soothing, and there’s a temptation to fast forward to the next track, and I soon succumb. However, the remainder of this side is about the same, and we don’t get a human voice until the penultimate cut “Do You Like Worms?” Answer: I like them conceptually as recyclers in God’s garden, but I prefer them to not be in my food or skin. And thank you for asking.
A cup of tea laced with Red Bull and I’m ready to tackle the last of these collections — the Foliage bonus disc. This is a more mixed bag, more than half the tracks fall in the “God, how can they stand to record such annoying garbage?” category, but some are respectable if eccentric pop tunes. “The Sky Is a Harpsichord,” “Can You Come Down,” and “California Demise” have the most promise, but much of the remaining material sounds like Residents outtakes. Perhaps I’m being harsh, but this is a frustrating disc — as a soundtrack, it lacks the visuals to explain the sounds, and as a pseudo-pop record, it teases terribly, it offers a refreshing cocktail, and then runs outside to slash your tires and pour sugar in the gas tank. If you’re in love with this band, you probably already have this on the old iPhone, and if you’re not the type who says “Hey, hon, let’s get a sitter and check out the experimental music fest in the abandoned warehouse district,” I’d be a little more reluctant to purchase.
Olivia Tremor Control: www.oliviatremorcontrol.com