It’s Easter Sunday, April 4th 1999. My friend and I had just driven two hours to see a show at Maxwell’s in Hoboken, New Jersey in my brown 1980 Dodge Diplomat. The group who I had just braved the drive for in my ancient battlewagon was the Olivia Tremor Control.
The creative explosion of the short lived Athens, GA based Elephant 6 collective was much needed in those hazy days of the late ‘90s, when musically things on the indie rock front just felt stagnant. OTC along with their E6 collective mates (which included such acts as Neutral Milk Hotel, and the Apples in Stereo) took inspiration from psychedelic; avant-garde and indie rock moves from across the decades and combined their influences into something entirely fresh, yet instantly recognizable. They almost seemed a bit like a cult-like in their unbridled enthusiasm, but instead of worshipping at the altar of some questionable figurehead; these guys had a love for each other and the music that inspired them. So much so, that it became something that seemed almost tangible and infectious.
This brings up to Giant Chocolate Think Tank Blues, an album credited to THE ALWAYS RED SOCIETY. The project in question is none other than a solo project from Will Cullen Hart, one that preceded his groundbreaking works with the Olivia Tremor Control. Available again for the first time in 20 years, on the recently formed Philadelphia-based label Hope For the Tape Deck as a limited edition cassette.
Let’s face it; almost nothing has been stranger than the resurgence of the cassette as a viable format in the early 21st century. I guess it’s best to never underestimate a music fan’s love for a tangible object, especially a small hissy pocket-sized analog one with real moving parts. The format is perfectly suited for presenting Mr. Cullen Hart’s embryonic 4 track exercises. While a few of the tracks on here were later re-imagined for OTC’s classic debut LP, Dusk At Cubist Castle, what presented here is a much more ragged and stripped down vision. The album kicks off with one of the aforementioned tracks, “Can You Come Down With Us?” In its early incarnation, it’s more akin to Freed Man-era Sebadoh in sound and approach than the Beatles/ Beach Boys/ Mothers of Invention influenced sounds that the group would later appropriate and smash together into new forms like atoms.
Elsewhere the album takes a mostly casual and fragmentary approach, with most of the songs clocking in at less than 2 minutes. One notable exception is the epic by comparison length 3+ minute loner vibes of “Some Meandering Mechanical Overseer.” The “songs” here run the gamut from the acoustic sketches such as “Headlong Step” to synth experiments like “Five Senses” to what one can assume are inside jokes like those that occur at the end of “Here We Are Again.” One almost feels a little voyeuristic listening to this, as it really sounds like something crafted to be heard by a small circle of friends and not the general listening public.
The album closes with another Dusk at Cubist Castle appropriation, “The Always Red Society.” Also presented here in a much sparer form with some nice background harmonies. While this release may disappoint some fans that are expecting something closer to the later sounds of the Olivia Tremor Control and his present day group The Circulatory System. Those who are looking to go deep with some stoned-sounding lo-fi skeletons and experiments will find much to dig.
Throwback Thursday #02:
Genre/ Tags: Experimental, Re-Issue
Talkin’ Giant Chocolate Think Tank Blues CS: Tracklist:
1.) Can You Come Down With Us?
2.) Life Of Glory
3.) Here We Are Again
4.) Don’t Take No
5.) Headlong Step
6.) Ginger Root Orchestra
8.) Five Senses
9.) Fucking You
10.) Some Meandering Mechanical Overseer Is Coming
11.) Broken Hearts
12.) Descending Down
13.) Stolen Car
14.) Song For Jeff And Bill
15.) The Always Red Society