The Olivia Tremor Control

The Olivia Tremor Control Presents: Singles and Beyond (Emperor Norton)

Most odds-and-ends collections aren't nearly odd enough, and they generally don't end well, either; remembering anything from the average leftovers compilation is about as easy as listing all the characters from War and Peace in alphabetical order. But there are exceptions, and this is one -- a timely deck-clearing for a group with a mania for documentation.

The members of the Olivia Tremor Control, a prominent member of the ultra-prolific Elephant 6 family (whose Denver branch features the Apples), seemingly make music every second of every day -- and if any of it goes uncaptured for posterity, it's not for a lack of trying. The twenty tracks here are culled from sources as disparate as a 1994 Terrestock festival compilation that came free with copies of the zine Ptolemaic Terrascope, a 1992 Anhedonia Records collection dubbed Soundtrack to the Bible Belt, and an anthology on the Cassiel imprint that the performers claim to never have actually seen. But what's more important than the cuts' various origins is their quality. Presents may not reach the heights of such earlier Olivia salvos as 1996's Dusk at Cubist Castle or the 1999 opus Black Foliage: Animation Music, but it isn't simply a curio for completists, either. The CD presents the work of songwriters William Cullen Hart and Bill Doss (supplemented here by Jeff Mangum, Robert Schneider and other Elephant 6 conspirators) in all its many facets -- and while the tunes can be self-indulgent at times, they're almost always catchy, and never, ever boring.

Following "Love Athena," a worthy opener from the early-'90s EP California Demise that showcases the act's dreamy pop side, things get weird mighty fast. The pleasantly warped "A Sunshine Fix" prompts an acidic reading of its central phrase, "A Giant Day" buzzes like Robert Downey Jr. swears he doesn't anymore, "King of the Claws" floats by like a particularly wispy cloud, and "Succour" goes from melodic grandeur to gothic ambience without breaking a sweat. The lyrics, meanwhile, are equally twisted: Witness "Today I Lost a Tooth," a title the still-young Hart and Doss rhyme with the line "Today I lost my youth." Didn't realize that the first quarter you found under your pillow was a symbol of the inexorable march toward death, didja?

When studio chicanery overwhelms pop sensibilities, as happens on the street-fair-gone-mad doodling of "Collage #1" and the blip 'n' bleep fest "Late Music 2," the results can be underwhelming for anyone who's ever heard a John Zorn album. But even at moments like these, the restless Hart-Doss wit keeps things percolating. And that, my friends, is called beating the odds.

 
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