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The Olivia Tremor Control



The Olivia Tremor Control is to experimental pop as James Brown is to soul and Neil Young is to grunge. They are the ones who sprinkled the original fairy dust (or, in the eyes of their detractors, spawned the demon seed) that blossomed into today's sprawling, nationwide Elephant Six Collective (or cult, if you like) of likeminded artists drawn together by their shared love for the pop masterpieces of The Beatles, Kinks, Zombies, and The Beach Boys, and their desire to bring those nostalgic sounds into the future, to make them new again. While many of these groups have succeeded admirably in this quest, The Olivia Tremor Control stands head and shoulders above the rest, having created some of the most fascinating and memorable music of their time.

It all started in the small Louisiana town of Ruston where future OTC singers and songwriters Bill Doss and Will Cullen Hart grew up playing and listening to music, often in the company of their buddies Jeff Mangum (who later founded Neutral Milk Hotel and has regularly recorded with The OTC) and Robert Schneider (who went on to front The Apples in Stereo and has also recorded with The OTC). Later they relocated to the indie mecca of Athens, Georgia, where by the mid-'90s, they began recording as The Olivia Tremor Control (evolving from a group called Synthetic Flying Machine which itself had evolved from a group called Cranberry Life Cycle). In 1993, the Olivias recorded their first EP, California Demise, introducing the strange, oblique narrative which would run through their two full-length albums pertaining to a giant earthquake known as the California Demise.

It was with their subsequent 1996 epic Music from the Unrealized Film Script Dusk at the Cubist Castle, a 70-minute soundtrack to an imaginary film dreamed up by Doss and Hart, which really made people sit up and take notice. Coupling their fondness for the wall-of-sound melodies of the '60s with their love for the odd sounds of musique concrete, The Olivia Tremor Control managed to make an album that was dazzlingly avant-garde and yet eminently accessible. But they topped themselves three years later with their second (and sadly last) LP, Black Foliage: Animation Music Vol. 1. Featuring contributions from numerous E6 cronies (including members of Neutral Milk Hotel, The Music Tapes, Elf Power, The Gerbils, and Of Montreal), Black Foliage was an astonishingly self-referential, densely layered labyrinth of interlocking sounds, themes, and ideas, on which The Olivias perfected their unique marriage of pop nirvana and impenetrable sonic collage art.

In 2000, amid rumors of the band's imminent breakup, Emperor Norton issued Singles and Beyond, which collected the group's hard-to-find EPs and numerous compilation tracks. Not surprisingly, Singles and Beyond lacks the compellingly unified feel of The Olivias' two very conceptual full-length albums, but the material contained within nonetheless reflects the essence of The Olivia Tremor Control: a maddening and delightfully offbeat mixture of golden melodies, psychedelic noise, tape pastiches, and bizarre production. "Love Athena," the collection's opener, first appeared on the band's California Demise EP.

While those breakup rumors have never been officially confirmed, The Olivia Tremor Control has at least gone on semi-permanent hiatus. Hart resurfaced in late 2001 with a project called Circulatory System (featuring all of the Olivias' primary members except Doss) and a transcendent album of introspective pop psychedelia which bore the same name. A few months later, Doss came back with a new project dubbed The Sunshine Fix and an album titled Age of the Sun, which saw him take his predilection for pop experimentation in a more soulful, blissed-out direction.