The Olivia Tremor Control – Music From the Unrealized Film Script, Dusk at Cubist Castle

11 Sep

Music From the Unrealized Film Script, Dusk at Cubist Castle by The Olivia Tremor Control (1996)

The Olivia Tremor Control’s first album, Dusk at Cubist Castle, is a psych pop tour de force.  It is supposed to be the soundtrack for an unreleased film about two girls, Olivia and Jacqueline, and an apocalyptic quake in California.  The album offers a wide range of genre exploration: neopsychadelia, indie rock, lo-fi, folk, Krautrock, surf rock and noise.  The first time I listened to it, I expected some kind of sonic adventure what with 27 tracks and nearly 80 minutes of music.

In this album, The Olivia Tremor Control is unparalleled by all of their neo-psych peers.  They blur the lines between pop imitation and emulation as their sound boldly recalls The Beatles 1967-68 era.  Though it is a post-modern take on worn territory, it is as inventive and innovative as I’ve heard of any band.  The production aid of The Apples In Stereo’s psych-pop savant, Robert Schneider, and the Elephant 6 Orchestra couldn’t have hurt.  In “Frosted Ambassador,” The OTC tells us that we are going to be taken to the “other side.”  We are.

“Jumping Fences” is one of my highest played tracks of all time; though brief, it accomplishes everything that a three and a half minute pop song could in less than two minutes.  It also parleys well into “Define a Transparent Dream” which isn’t far behind in its psych pop brilliance.  The first third of the album delivers some of the sunniest tracks: notably “Jumping Fences,” “No Growing” and “Courtyard.”

The “Green Typewriters” stretch, which has ten iterations, is…plain trippy.  The tracking and flow is impressively seamless.  It plays like a pot of psychedelic stew being stirred slowly.  The series begins with a warm “Typewriters I-IV.”  “Green Typewriters V” jars its listener with a demonic, resonating hum, then a burst of instrumentation in “VI,” followed by another distorted, droning monologue by what could be a possessed interior decorator in “VII.”  “Green Typewriters VIII,” in its near ten minutes of sonic absence, is more than a bit trying on one’s pop patience.  It recalls Kraftwerk’s Autobahn or Neu!’s first album with its minimalism and hum of passing vehicles.  It’s like you’re parked at a suburban stoplight with your turn signal on (shiny UFOs are overhead) and the light never turns green.  Frankly, I find the track rather unlistenable; however, “Green Typewriters IX” comically begins with “How much longer can I wait?”  Ultimately, I find the core of the album in the late “Green Typewriters” tracks to be the only turnoff.  I’m okay with out there; but when it’s not there?

The album’s twilight is comprised of a handful of slower tracks.   The title track is very good, though it is bookended by two minutes of sparkly nothingness and another two minutes of humming and percussive experimentation; that being said, it is far more listenable than the aforementioned “Typewriters VIII.”  “NYC-25” is a gorgeous signoff and calls up the psych pop trope of sleep-obsession.

The first 1,000 copies of the album were released with a bonus Explanation II which was to act as a sound-oriented compliment to be played concurrently with Dusk at Cubist Castle.  I was unfortunately unable to find a copy of it anywhere.  I can only imagine.  Hearing this album in stereo-squared might be a quadraphonic overload.

Rating: ****1/2

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