The Olivia Tremor Control: Black Foliage: Animation Music

The Olivia Tremor Control
Black Foliage: Animation Music

"Psychedelic" ist't the best word to describe the wondrous music the Olivia Tremor Control makes. Sure, the amorphous Athens collective doesn't exactly spurn that characterization, which aptly reflects the swooping harmonies, backward tape loops, noise infusions, and through-the-looking-glass sensibility of the band's 1996 debut Music From the Unrealized Film Script 'Dusk at Cubist Castle.' But if Olivia's sound often suggests an affinity for Donovan and Revolver-era Beatles, as well as their post-punk inheritors, from the Swell Maps to XTC, the psychedelic-rock tag hardly gets to the willfully perverse pop-soul of the band's compulsively experimental, obsessively orchestrated yet organic pastiche.

Many reviews of Dusk at Cubist Castle discussed it as the work of dabblers attempting a sustained musical excursion into the dream world, but OTC's recordings most often suggest the exact opposite--a Freudian eruption of the unconscious into classic pop. No matter how you choose to interpret it, they pursue their arcane project with a continued devotion to extravagance throughout their new Black Foliage: Animation Music. On "Hideaway," a gentle, acoustic-guitar number intricately studded with bells, xylophone, electric piano, horns, and a bracing splash of Beach Boys-style harmonies, a honeyed set of pipes urges, "Don't hide away, hide away from all your daydreams...or your nightmares." Minus the last three words, the line glistens with insipid pop sentiment. But taken as a whole, it reflects the Olivia Tremor Control's drive to plumb the darker side of pop music's psyche, which gives the album its unifying theme.

Throughout the album, the band's roundabout process reveals as many shadowy impulses as it does sunny springtime yearnings. The songs on Black Foliage insist on the perpetual coexistence of dark and light. The sublimely effervescent "A New Day" is riddled with discordant brass improvisation, while the spaceman contemplation, "I Have Been Floated," is weighed down with harsh electronic feedback, weeping violin and cello, and spooky theremin.

The Olivia Tremor Control treats pop-music conventions with a reverence that never precludes a concurrent deconstruction and subversion of those conventions. Melodies perfect enough to seem almost weightless are bridged by random passages of ambient sound. At times these segues feel like impositions; elsewhere the ebb and flow of the album's melodic coherence goes unbroken, almost as if the music's movement is subject to a grander logic.

There are moments when Black Foliage succumbs to its own exorbitance. The fey "A Familiar Noise Called 'Train Director'" has a precious, rococo sound and the breathlessly sung lyrics "If you come back down, you should hear the sound of xylophones gently breathing." Yet, for the most part, Olivia Tremor Control are very much in control of the psychic stew in their sonic cauldron, which is, without a doubt, the stuff of dreams.

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