The Wacky World Of The Elephant 6 Recording Collective

“You will be assimilated. Strength is irrelevant. Resistance is futile. Negotiation is irrelevant. Freedom is irrelevant. Self-determination is irrelevant. You must comply. You will be assimilated.”

The recent death of Bill Doss, Elephant 6 co-founding guru and front man and chief songwriter for the amazing Olivia Tremor Control, is making me listen to their output in a new light, as death sometimes does (see Joe Strummer, Joey, etc). So I thought I’d clean up and repost an old one from the files on this most weird collection of musicians.

The Elephant 6 Recording Company is (was?) a collective of like minded weirdo musicians and downright freaky individuals who have, since 1991, released some fantastically creative psyche albums.

Most of the music produced by the Elephant 6 collective focus on mid to late 60’s psychedelia, but beneath the surface there is always the feeling that something sinister and dark is lurking just below, something disturbing. It’s like a David Lynch movie; friendly, waving firemen, kids playing stickball or trading bubblegum cards, beautiful sunny day, that kind of stuff. Dig a little deeper, though, and you’ll find that it’s all an illusion. The reality underneath is something that’ll make your stomach turn and your mind reel with revulsion.

Although you will be able to play the lazy “spot the influences” game (“Hey, that sounds like the Zombies! Wow, that sounds like something off Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake!”, etc), they somehow sidestep the danger of outright plagiarism by adding enough modern twists and sounds to make it new again.

Some of the bands and albums have achieved such regal cult status with both critics and fans that the first time I heard Neutral Milk Hotel’s ‘In The Aeroplane Over The Sea’ I was slightly under whelmed. The discography is fairly massive and if you don’t start with the right bands or the right albums you may find yourself saying, “What the hell is all the fuss about with this Elephant 6 crap!”

So, being the generous sort that I am, I thought I’d attempt to point you in the right direction. I’ll attempt to point you in the right direction and let you find your own way to the Emerald City. If you start with the following albums, though, I think you’ll be ok.

Neutral Milk Hotel, In The Aeroplane Over The Sea: This album has achieved a similar status to My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless (in that it is almost universally revered) over the years and is a real acid trip of a record. It’s a cross between Season Of The Witch-era Donovan and a marching band on acid. It takes a few listens to get it, but well worth your trouble.

Of Montreal, Satanic Panic In The Attic: Surreal lyrics, a trademark of Of Montreal’s brain trust Kevin Barnes, and a stripped down sound in addition to some damn fine songwriting makes this the most accessible, and most enjoyable, of the Of Montreal albums. Lysergic Bliss is a real wonder of a song.

Olivia Tremor Control, Music From The Unrealized Film Script, Dusk At Cubist Castle: The “White Album” of the collective. It’s been said that this is what the Beatles would have sounded like had they stayed together into the ‘90’s, and they’re not far off. Actually, I think its more appropriate to say that this is what The Beatles would have sounded like if Yoko Ono was made a full time member of the Beatles. The album (please don’t make me spell out that title again!) is schizophrenic, yet tuneful, epic yet intimate. Containing elements of the Beach Boys, Can, ‘60’s folk and psyche and Velvet Underground drone, this album is my favorite Elephant 6 record. No contest.

Apples In Stereo, New Magnetic Wonder: The music world needs more vocoder’s, and this album’s got plenty.  In addition to the vocoders,  Mellotrons, backwards guitars and a heavy dose of Something/Anything era Todd Rundgren thrown in for good measure. The real influence here, of course, is the Electric Light Orchestra and specifically (other than the ample use of vocoders) Lynne’s penchant for writing really good pop hooks that stick with you like gum on your shoe. Funnyman Steven Colbert has championed them from the beginning, which is an endorsement of the highest order.

Ladybug Transistor, The Albemarle Sound: If The Olivia Tremor Control are The Beatles of the ‘90’s, then the Ladybug Transistor would be Burt Bacharach, or Serge Gainsbourg. Sounding like it could’ve been released 40 years ago, The Abermarle Sound is more direct and less experimental, relying on solid, conventional songs that almost always hit the right spot.