Nine Years Later :: Black Foliage: Animation Music

black-foliage.jpgHas it really been an entire decade since the Olivia Tremor Control released their Black Foliage album? Almost, as the album hit retail shelves in 1999. Sonically both an epic, psychedelic collage, as well as a reverent paean to Sixties pop, Olivia Tremor Control created records that begged for your headphones. Below, AD contributor J. Neas reflects on the construction of Black Foliage compared to OTC’s ambitious debut Dusk At Cubist Castle. – AD

OTC’s Dusk at Cubist Castle – a menagerie of pure pop mixed with musique concrete and soundscapes – was not like much anything else I had ever heard. When I got around to Black Foliage, their second (and last) album, I found myself even more amazed. Where does Black Foliage go that ..Cubist Castle didn’t? Let’s look. First, there’s the production. While there has always been a purposeful lo-fi haze to OTC’s work, here there are tracks that sound (and I mean this as a complete, worshipful compliment) positively A.M. radio. There’s a distance to the sheer pop that comes pouring out in “Hideaway” and “A Peculiar Noise Called ‘Train Director’.” And yet this music transcends that separation. “Hideaway”‘s horns and endless background harmonies are one of the most relentlessly infectious things the band ever put to tape. The album is full of these moments.

But a quick math problem. There are 27 tracks on this album, only 16 of which would be considered “songs.” So wither the 11 others? There are two answers. First, there is a series of sound collage pieces, each titled “Black Foliage” with a parenthetical subtitle to set them off from one another. These are spread intermittently throughout the record and comprise six of the eleven. These are themes, much in the way that classical music has themes that are repeated and altered throughout the course of the piece. Each part of the “Black Foliage” set revisits the titular musical theme and it helps the album keeps its togetherness. Second, there are small chunks of the aforementioned musique concrete both within tracks and separate. These small tracks, annoying if you’re either paying per track or have your CD player on random, are the connective tissue. On their own, OTC’s pop compositions wouldn’t hold up as an album, merely as individual set pieces. Immersed within the context of the themes and connective pieces, it unites it into what is unmistakably an album. There is no stopping from beginning to end – all of the small set pieces (some tracks only four seconds long) help make this an album in every sense of the term. You can pull individual songs loose, but Black Foliage is best enjoyed from beginning to end. – j. neas

Here in the age of digital music, we’ve been talking a lot lately about the devaluation of the long-player album as an art form. Black Foliage is an album experience if there ever was one, as it simply does not work in pieces, nor should it. What other albums immediately come to mind that must be taken as a whole? Hit us up in the comments.

Related: Jeff Mangum :: XFM Radio Session – May 1998


MP3: Olivia Tremor Control :: Hideaway
MP3: Olivia Tremor Control :: Grass Canons

9 thoughts on “Nine Years Later :: Black Foliage: Animation Music

  1. As an example of how the album format has been snubbed by the industry for a while, look no further than Britpop/prog band Mansun. Their debut, Attack of the Grey Lantern, is hitched together so that tracks segue seemlessly into one another and create a gorgeous album work. But of course, when it got its American release, not only did they chop up and screw with the track listing, they removed and replaced a song. The result is a mess despite the solid songwriting. What they hoped to get out of it, I have no clue. Did they really think that re-working the album was going to turn a Prog-laden Britpop band into Stateside heroes? C’mon now.

  2. I was actually discussing this topic with a co-worker the other day, albeit in a slightly different context. There is no doubt that digital release and pay-per-song options have forever shifted the concept of the “album.” Personally I think this can be good or bad, depending on the context. I mean, I can’t tell you how many full CDs I bought in the past just to get one or two good songs.

    But back to the concept of between song “connective tissue” – let’s talk about the skits and/or interludes on rap albums. At this point they’ve become a trite way to stretch the track listing on an otherwise insubstantial album. In these cases, iTunes is a blessing. Back in the day though, they were an essential part of the album experience. Think of the threatening banter on “Enter The Wu-Tang” or the goofy intermissions on “The Chronic.” To this day, I automatically associate this “filler” with the album itself and how it connects the tracks adds to the listener’s enjoyment.

    This is simply an experience you can’t get buying songs one at a time from a digital retailer. Oh well, add that to the list of things that has changed about the music consumer experience in the last 10 years. I don’t want to sound like an old man, so I guess I’ll stop there, before I start another sentence with “back in the day.”

  3. I’ve not heard OTC’s “Black Foliage”, but with the description of the sound collage pieces, it sounds a bit like “Lolita Nation” by Game Theory. An album best taken as a whole, not in separate pieces. The strange tracks include song snippets from other works, sound effects, instrumentals and sometimes just a very short song.

  4. I can’t believe you are mentioning Olivia Tremor Control’s Black Foilage! I love that album! I can’t find it on vinyl! “A Sleepy Company” and “New Day” are amazing. This group’s output is definitely “Beatles” worthy.

    It is sad to think that the next generation of bands might not care to create an “album experience” in the age of the Ipod. I see the benefit of cutting the fat off a band’s mediocre work and downloading whatever is decent. Lord knows with the recession looming I need every deal I can get. But, I prefer putting down $10 for a great album then start digging around Itunes for 10 “good” tracks. Below are 5 albums I feel need to be listen to as a WHOLE:

    Internal Wrangler by Clinic
    Broken Social Scene by Broken Social Scene
    Leaves Turn Inside You by Unwound
    Fantasma by Cornelius
    Ladies and Gentlemen, We Are Floating In Space by Spiritualized

  5. A very very perfect album. Dusk at Cubist Castle is perfect too, and Circulatory System is better than perfect. So so so good…

  6. I think it would be easier to list every album that shouldn’t be listened to as a whole

  7. This is easily one of the best, most addicting CDs I’ve heard in the past couple years. I was introduced to OTC in 2006 and since the first day I had this CD it has become one of the most listened to in my collection. It is creative, well produced, and I guarantee that at some point everyone who has listened to this CD has had a song or two stuck in their head for days at a time. Depending on how you look at it, and I’m sure there are a few people who will oppose my saying this, but I think if John, Paul, George, and the Ring man were to be given a modern day studio Sgt.Pepper very well may have sounded a lot like Black Foliage. Amazing album to say the least.

    Listen to this CD really, really LOUD. There is so much more tone variation laid on top of some of the songs that unless you listen to it loud you don’t get the full effect. Also Hilltop Procession has a quiet, short harmonica bit at the end that is a perfect example of the intricacies OTC integrates, which sound better at full volume. The Rolling Stones engineered their album to be played loud, I wouldn’t be surprised if OTC followed suit, this certainly is the CD for it.

Comments are closed.