By Roy Kasten
By Kris Wernowsky
By Chaz Kangas
By Joseph Hess
By Julie Seabaugh
By Mike Appelstein
By Rachel Brodsky
By Kelsey McClure
Remember that golden age of trippy, gorgeous concept albums, that peak era of psychedelic music that produced songs such as "Define a Transparent Dream" and "The Sky is a Harpsichord Canvas?" Ah yes, the mid-'90s were a glorious time for psych-rock. In the few short years since it disbanded, the work of the Elephant 6 collective has become legendary, mostly for the way its core artists distilled the tropes and goals of the '60s art-rock movement into music that never felt simply retro.
Perhaps the most ambitious and successful of the Elephant 6 bands, the Olivia Tremor Control released albums that moved from glorious pop to harsh ambient soundscapes, often in the middle of a single song. While the group's two LPs, Music from the Unrealized Film Script "Dusk at Cubist Castle" and Black Foliage: Animation Music Vol. 1 continue to sound as fresh as they did when first released, they've been out of print for the past few years. Thank Cloud Recordings (who put out the post-OTC splinter group Circulatory System's first LP) for reaching way back to the '90s and rescuing these great albums.
The secret to the success of these albums is that the OTC realized that while the recording equipment it used may have been cheap and outdated, it was still on par with the stuff used on the most grandiose of '60s recordings. So the OTC layered sound upon sound, trilling notes over overdubbed streams of choruses until your head swam with the beauty of it.
Both of these albums contain late-period-Beatles-esque pop, Pink Floyd-level pretension and moments of infuriating lunacy, but if your budget only allows you to buy one mid-'90s psychedelic masterpiece, go with Dusk at Cubist Castle. Even though Dusk has ten tracks named "Green Typewriters," eight of which are little more than noise, it's slightly more sane and poppy than Black Foliage and will serve as a better introduction. When the inevitable '90s-retro craze sweeps America's teens, it will probably focus on flannel shirts and Seattle grunge (or, as seems more and more likely every day, flannel shirts and The Chronic), and the Elephant 6 collective will get left out. It's a good thing these albums are timeless.