Psychedelic babble

Feb 17, 1999 at 12:00 am

The members of Elephant 6 band Olivia Tremor Control provide a long-winded, largely abstract explanation for the chaotic interludes dotting their second album. Well-meaning musical experimentation though these "animations" and "combinations" may be, they diminish what is otherwise the most assured and engaging album of psychedelic pop-rock to surface since – big words – Pet Sounds or Sgt. Pepper.

It’s true that much of OTC’s art-noise bric-a-brac works to good effect – putting a bit of a kink in otherwise sunny and straight-ahead pop songs, knitting together several of these, infusing the album with a spirit of enjoyably rambunctious weirdness. All too frequently, however, you can’t help wondering if OTC has lost the plot mucking about – until yet another all-too-fleeting pop gem, such as "Hideaway," "A New Day," "A Place We Have Been To" or "California Demises," crops up and amazes you all over again.

It should be noted that picking out particular songs misses the point of Black Foliage Animation Music, which contains no fewer than 27 tracks, subdivided into four "sides" – indistinguishable, to my ears. Almost all the tracks are blink-and-you’ll-miss-it brief, and at least 11 of them are "animations," "combinations" or otherwise-titled excursions into the musical wilderness. And while the remaining tracks don’t sound identical or formulaic by any means, they also don’t wander much from an, er, formula of Beatlesesque rhythms, melodies and instrumentation, Beach Boys-like harmonies and idiosyncratic prog-rock gestures. Black Foliage is totally seamless – or maybe "organic" is a better description, given the album’s loosely concocted "Nature" concept – at least I think it’s "Nature"; at least I think it’s a "concept." The whole of Black Foliage is immeasurably more than the sum of its parts – but I can’t help but wish the parts had been given more opportunity to shine.