Weekly Wire
Weekly Alibi Control Freaks

By Brendan Doherty

APRIL 19, 1999:  Just the mere mention of "Elephant 6" has come to be synonymous with massive and elaborate productions with the tiniest of shoestring budgets. Helmed by critically acclaimed Apples in Stereo and Neutral Milk Hotel, Olivia Tremor Control are a stunning addition to the Elephant 6 conglomerate.

"In the blink of an eye/You get several meanings," sings Bill Doss on "Olivia Tremor Control" from their latest record, Black Foliage (Flydaddy). Nowhere has there been a clearer message about such novel music. It's like saying that The Odyssey was about a voyage. If you've been reading the New York Times, and you've got these records, you know that the adage "people aren't listening to music the way they used to," is rapidly becoming a mantra for the mainstream press. Much as I hate to admit it, it's by and large true. But Olivia Tremor Control are among the tiny handful of bands who are making dense enough albums to merit the kind of attention your stoned-out parents lavished on the Beatles' psych-period. Backward masking. Tape loops. Found sounds. Lit kids. It's all here.

All 27 songs of it.

"You'll get it," says Bill Doss. "It'll take about 50 listens to figure it all out, but it's there. If it's done right, it'll mean something to everybody, even if it takes that many listens. I'd like the CD to be so universal that each person thinks that it means something to his or her life. It's something I strive for in writing a song, and even if you never reach it, at least it gave you a reason to go and record--you know, make a tape for your friends."

And, oh what friends this band have. Part of the swirling 60-odd member Elephant 6 collective, OTC are hardly a band in the classic sense, but more like a collective of post-punk hippies who can't stop recording. Their first, Dusk at Cubist Castle, was a collection of 4-track songs that were made over several years. Members shift in and out. Anyone at last year's OTC/Neutral Milk show saw the members of each band flit back and forth onstage. On the new album, Neutral Milk principal Jeff Magnum bangs percussion and found tapes. Apples in Stereo principal Robert Schneider ran the recording.

The core of the Elephant 6 cites its home in the unlikely capital of Ruston, La. as one reason for their cohesion.

"We grew up together, so it's hard--just for ourselves--to separate us from each other," says Bill Doss. "We were in bands together long before this. It makes me feel good if I read an article on the Apples and they mention us."

The other revelation about the band is that the very sound and lush instrumentation OTC gets on clunky old equipment is painstakingly recreated with multi-instrumentation by just a few people onstage.

For those who don't have the stomach to take on the 27-song Black Foliage--from its four-minute charmer to the 11-minute behemoth song--a Black Foliage guide EP will be released later this year, with more succinct themes, like a Cliff's Notes for music. But for those of us who "listen to records like they used to," the CD and performances will have a tonic decoding effect.

"Don't look for those lyrics to shed any new light on humanity," says Doss. "It's probable that the meanings that you give these songs are more profound than the ones that prompted me to write in the first place."


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