For all the supposed ’90s revivalism going on these days, it’s important to remember that the ’90s didn’t sound like any one thing. While some bands hitched their wagons to the post-grunge star everyone knows and loves, countless more took up the era’s sense of burgeoning possibilities and created something more unique and unlikely. The Elephant 6 Collective was a potent microcosm of the diversity and ambition of ’90s indie, spinning off beloved bands such as Of Montreal, Neutral Milk Hotel, and The Olivia Tremor Control, whose two proper albums have just been lovingly reissued by Chunklet.
The cut-and-splice twist that The Olivia Tremor Control applied to sunny ’60s pop was already well-explored by that genre’s original practitioners. But the Olivias found a uniquely holistic way of incorporating sound collage and pop; the arty stuff is still catchy, the catchy stuff still arty. The band’s 1996 debut, Dusk At Cubist Castle, is the sunnier, more straightforward of the band’s two proper albums, augmenting impeccably constructed melodies with tape wobble and horn bounce. The 1999 follow-up, Black Foliage: Animation Music, Vol. 1, is more varied and immersive, playing up the contrast between impressionistic instrumentals and densely orchestrated pop songs.
Originally released on the now-defunct Flydaddy label and re-released six years ago on the band’s own Cloud label, the Olivias’ discography has found its definitive iteration in this second round of reissues. The quality and attention to detail here is just stunning; the vinyl is thick and beautiful, the gatefold jackets vivid and sturdy, the bonus material comprehensive and illuminating. Black Foliage has been remastered from the original tapes, bringing its remarkable complexity into greater focus. For a couple of albums released in the ’90s and firmly rooted in the ’60s, nothing here sounds even remotely dated. The combination of grand aesthetic ambition and humble, homespun execution favored by The Olivia Tremor Control remains inspiring by any decade’s standards.