Home / Review: Olivia Tremor Control – Black Foliage

Review: Olivia Tremor Control – Black Foliage

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mystify and unify we know
half empty is positive we know
there are no explanations to the things
you see (in the mystery)
so don’t look to me to validate your dreams.
– “Hilltop Procession”

Through unknown forces we are explorers. Examining the Unknown Errors of Our Lives, while searching through imaginations of powerful people pressing even more powerful buttons. We are wanderers through the mystery. And though often the existential dread of living inside of this absurd world may cripple us, there are more experienced psychonautical investigators and activists of positivity than ever before. We’ve got the Olivia Tremor Control on our side.

Black Foliage is the two-and-a-half year result of their Elephant 6 collective’s collective effort. William Cullen Hart, Bill Doss, Eric Erchick, John Fernandez, and Eric Harris passed their 4-tracks, their 8-tracks around for months adding excerpts from recorded dreams as told by their fans, field recordings, and some of the craziest, most productive and psychedelic manipulations ever thought possible.

Colors are important here. Dusk At Cubist Castle was a blue, white, and red album, its palette sensitive, young – a 3rd-person view of the alternate reality from which OTC places their listeners. Black Foliage, however paints in rich colors of darkness – lush blood reds, dark, foresty greens. The density of the labyrinthine schwarzwald before the listener is daunting and what is below the bark? Under the rock? Under many forms of consciousness, this album has ways of answering questions like an oracle, revealing new versions of what’s the real deal, through the bullshit.

Through the singing saw, clarinets, melodicas, percussion of all kinds, digital post-production, beautifully layered vocal harmonies, and the most dense audio thicket imaginable, Olivia Tremor Control construct an album that will outlast their own existence. Something that even they cannot fully understand, but know that, through the sharing with others and the recontextualizations their fans place the album, more meaning that will be discovered.

There are twenty-seven tracks to the album. The majority of the songs are two to five minutes long, everything is tied together by what they call ‘animation music’ (which is the subtitle to the album). I’ll let the band do the talking about this concept:

“the idea as
Black Foliage began was to take a section… and make a set of animated departures stemming from that bass guitar medley, twisting it to many variations. As time moved on the animation sections became intermingled with our daily lives, we added new hunks of sound everyday, the animation sections began to include pieces of each other… careful thought as to making the music pulse with the rhythm of modern life at times things seem quiet, or multiple sounds merge…. let your environment in….”

They have this song on here called “California Demise”. It is simply one of the most amazing songs I’ve ever heard. In many ways it is akin to the tradition of the Beatles that Elliott Smith carries, with its grand piano and imminent feeling of importance, with the low-heavy bass exploded below. It comes near the end of the album, within the closing segments of the forest. The lyrics allow for a variety of interpretation:

Home of the saints burning down the walls
between spaces between friends
(hark and why do the angels pose in rows?)
in my garden, angels
they come inside of me at night
interstatic sun beams of all the angels only storybook
they come inside of me at night
interstatic sunbeams of all the angels only storybook
… friends, friends…

… friends, friends…
… friends, friends…
don’t bother wearing seatbelts
to protect them from the rain
save all your breath
keep chiming
california demise!

“I know it’s hard to believe in something you can’t see.”

“The Bark And Below It” is a soundscape/collage composed of the sounds of microphones buried in the soil, the sound of the earthworms, dreams fly through your ear, you catch a word. A soft bell in the distance rings, the pianos swirl. Sound is everywhere, and train passed through. More oppression for drooling corners. Corridors, tones opening brain circuitry to physically feel the forces of nature, that sound can be taken away as fast as it has been built. Quiet is the new loud. Strings go crazy, delay unto themselves. Hoffman on a bicycle, passes through an ear, ringing his bell. And the flanger hell of the airplane jungle. I bend down to ask the bark a question. It responds as neither dog nor mammal, as its own. It throws a clavinet at me, I increase the volume. This is not madness. This is the universe in its subtle motion, expanding and contracting at the rate of many frames per second. But every tangent from here is valid. The ants are below the soil, building an army. Some day they will overtake us… will we be ready? Until it all settles, slowly back into the Black Foliage, on the last few curves out…

We will find a way to animate the sounds we hear inside
The bark, below it is the ants
and snails having orange parties
the bark, below it can we go?
we will find a way, the travel will be our destiny of sound
how can we learn to break the world of sound?
the bark, below it is the ground
you can always take you back down
– “Another Set of Bees in the Museum”

To every journey there is an end. A moment where the flags come out to play, and twist and turn. Kite-flying. The conclusion. Olivia Tremor Control sum up the world to them in “Hilltop Procession” as quoted at the beginning, “mystify and unify we know / half empty is positive we know” and “there are no explanations to the things you see (in the mystery) / so don’t look to me to validate your dreams.” It is worth repeating. Even despite the kindness, and willingness of OTC to share the contents and perspectives of existence and the meaning of the mystery, they still resist themselves as being correct, or an authority of any kind. They aren’t on that trip. Let no others make decisions about your mind. No government. No friend. You control your consciousness, and you are responsible for it. Not that the world is compatible with that viewpoint.

They want someone to “take me away from this food chain! (link! link! link! link!)” to “bubble among the bones and streams.” The past and the present as one, a concept William Cullen Hart investigates closely on the Circulatory System album.

Black Foliage has blown my mind for a few years now. 1998 and 1999 were amazing years for discovering music. Thankfully, this album recently went back in print. Your local independent record store may have a copy, vinyl (with two records and beautiful artwork), or the expensive Japanese Import which includes a bonus combinations track. When you enter chapel perilous….

I woke up under the water, and out of the ground was as high as buildings

D. Taylor Singletary reviews reality at RealityTechnicians.

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About D. Taylor Singletary

  • Great review, DTS. An interesting read, even though I’ve never heard of them.

    Welcome to Blogcritics!

    Music Editor

  • This post was chosen by the section editor as a BC pick of the week. Go HERE (link) to find out why.

    And thank you

  • Wow, thanks for the recognition. I’ll keep it up.