WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN? Can’t decipher Olivia Tremor Control’s album titles? Too bad.
Until recently, the hazy chronicle of the Athens-based Elephant 6 collective had begun to resemble a late-'90s high school yearbook. Most Likely To Succeed: Kevin Barnes, who pounded the road with Of Montreal so ferociously that he soon got tired of the cutesy psycho-babble and morphed into an indie monstrosity of Stipe-ian proportions. Most Congenial: Robert Schneider, whose Apples in Stereo swapped their crinkly stoner-fuzz for Powerpuff Girls soundtracks and hi-fi albums that sound more like ELO than Rubber Soul.
You could say that Barnes and Schneider grew up, moved to the city, and got real jobs. Meanwhile Jeff Mangum of Neutral Milk Hotel and Bill Doss and Will Hart of Olivia Tremor Control (the other two cornerstone bands of the E6 collective) stayed back home working those proverbial Dairy Queen shifts.
That is, until it was announced early this year that Mangum, virtually inactive since 1998, would perform at not only this month's All Tomorrow's Parties fest, but also a number of solo dates — including September 9 at Sanders Theatre and September 10 at New England Conservatory's Jordan Hall (both sold out). This near-volcanic activity for Mangum devotees was matched earlier this summer by Doss and Hart announcing their first OTC tour since 2005. But not only are OTC active and touring again (they come to Brighton Music Hall this Monday), they recently smacked fans in the face with a genuine-but-fractured pop single, just like the old days, "The Game You Play Is in Your Head, Parts 1, 2 & 3."
Listening to an OTC record is like walking into a movie 15 minutes late. With hand-drawn illustrations instead of band photos, random sounds flying in and out of the speakers where melodies should be, and titles that allude to a past or future plot that was never made clear (such as their 1996 LP, Music from the Unrealized Film Script, Dusk At Cubist Castle), the listener always feels like he or she is trying to catch up.
"Why spell it out for people?" says Doss by phone from Georgia. Although he's talking about the music, he could be also talking about the general modus operandi of the group. According to Doss, he and Hart have actually not been working at the Dairy Queen at all, but have actually been piecing OTC back together for the better part of five years.
Doss says he and Hart had essentially put music on the back burner until, one day in late 2006, Doss learned that Hart had been diagnosed with MS. "When I heard that, all of a sudden it punched me in the face," says Doss. "That's my best friend and we're not making music. After a couple of weeks of hanging out, we pulled out the four-track again. It was great because it was like we were in high school again, we weren't really in a band, we weren't on a record label, there was nobody calling us going, 'When are you touring? When is the record done?' It was just me and him and a four-track, sitting on the floor."