Why I love The Olivia Tremor Control

I’ve been listening to and thinking about the Olivia Tremor Control a lot recently. it must be the weather, the Indian Summer we’re having this week seems to fit their mood perfectly, the glorious last flames of a dying fire. Or maybe they’re just autumnal, I don’t know.

It’s only recently I realised that I actually love them (like the love a man has for a fine cuban cigar). I think the fact that I never appreciated them fully, in fact at times they bored me, now leads to their appeal. That I’ve been digging out their two albums and a collection of singles, listening to them for a week, and putting them away for a decade now, shows that they’ve held some kind of place in my heart.

So what is it about them? Well, the music – obviously. They’ve got great tunes influenced by stuff I love – 60’s psych, any world folk music you care to mention – but what I really love is the sense that they’re not professionals. Sure, their recordings are unbelievably dense and experimental but underneath it all I always feel a band who are just normal people trying to make music they love. I root for them and am pleased for them when they manage it.

I think this comes from a couple of things. The first is the aforementioned boredom. This comes from a couple of places – first there’s the perversity of putting a great number of instrumentals, pieces of music concrete and found sound between the pop songs on their albums. Dusk at Cubist Castle features an 8 minute piece of water dripping, cars going by and talking in the middle of a suite of music. and then the songs themselves, to half listening ear they can become  drowned out by the soundtrack bits and seem limp and dull. They’re not. And finding this out makes me love them even more.

The other part that makes them seem like real people, people I want to succeed, are the lyrics, which are part and parcel of the Olivia Tremor Control world view. They come from the Elephant 6 collective, a bunch of bands who were friends growing up so my view is already coloured by this but songs with lyrical hooks like “model portrait heads of Gertrude Stein” and “1000 typewriters soaked in green paint!” make me think of a band trying to create their own world, a more interesting, stranger world, through their music.

When I listen to them I see the members singing songs sounding like the era they grew up in, trying to recreate these sounds, trying their hardest to make it is interesting as possible. And they do.

John, September 11

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