Beulah, Gene Autry, Emma Blowgun's Last Stand, Ballad of the Lonely Agronaut

Posted in Beulah, Youtube Favs on September 23rd, 2011 by Willie

Beulah was formed in a mail room in San Fransisco when Miles Kurosky and Bill Swan decided they both liked the same music, well mostly.  This is the kind of story yours truly can get behind due to own desire to hatch great ideas when I worked in a mail room.  Robert Schneider of the Apples in Stereo hooked them into Elephant 6 when he heard their first demo, and before you knew it, Beulah was one of E6’s shining stars of indie rock.  The thing I love about the Elephant 6 Collective was how they all intermingled with each other and helped out other bands when they recorded and went on tour.  The “collective” part of the moniker was no bullshit, as this was a band of boys and girls who all loved the same music, and all dreamed of becoming rock stars.  They remind me of the way certain underground comedy teams were forming around this time in the mid 90s like Upright Citizens Brigade and the State.  Creative young people in the 90s all saw the value in sharing, working together, and having fun, despite rivalries, which were never too serious.  Beulah is that band, constantly swapping members with Of Montreal, Olivia Tremor Control, and the Apples.  Musically, Beulah has a gorgeous storytelling quality to their songs.  Most of them begin somewhere in the middle, and the music is so energetic and uplifting, that you just go along for the ride, no matter how out of context the lyrical content seems.  The only thing I know about “Gene Autry” is that it was released on 9/11/01, bestowing it’s sweet sadness with even more mysticism.  “Emma Blowgun’s Last Stand” has some of the greatest lyrics you’ll find in an indie rock song.  Lastly, my favorite, “Ballad of the Lonely Agronaut,” I’ve played 1000 times.  I always kept swept up in its tale of American exploration, and its ceaselessly catchy structure.  The song bursts out the gate with an enthusiastic melody that just hooks you instantly.  Also, the line, “gold is coated with gold on the languid hills, where they wait for hours and hours, cool grey ladies from Shirley’s loan us cheer, as they sat for hours and hours,” is so wonderful, and I have no idea what it means, but its been stuck in my head forever.  Beulah broke up in 2004 because their last record, Yoko, despite the best reviews of their career, failed to go gold, a huge goal for the band never reached.  The recording of that album, which featured the breakup of Miles and his long term girlfriend, and three other band member divorces, was dark and difficult, and took its toll on the group’s psyche.  It was a bit of a burnout for one of the most unique and creative bands of the late 90s/early 00’s, but they certainly left a legacy as one of America’s best underground bands with one of the most devoted fan bases.

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Of Montreal, Disconnect the Dots, Lysergic Bliss (live), Art Snob Solutions (live)

Posted in Of Montreal, Youtube Favs on September 22nd, 2011 by Willie

R.E.M. broke up yesterday, but worry not, because Athens, Georgia rocks on with their other native sons, Of Montreal.  Of Montreal, famously not “of Montreal,” hail from R.E.M.’s hometown too.  Kevin Barnes, the group’s extroverted introvert genius front man, is peculiar guy.  When he broke into music, his talent wasn’t entirely assembled.  His early home record, Cherry Peel, is pretty terrible.  The only redeeming feature was  the strange lyrical sense.  It mixed a sublimely inspired high brow thing with an almost crass vulnerability.  Even though his early records weren’t great, Kevin kept plugging away, churning out song after song, and record after record, becoming one of the most prolific artists in rock and roll.  Along the way, his talent skyrocketed, and most of Of Montreal’s records were entirely recorded by him, and featured stunning melodies, complex arrangements, and a mashing together of styles that was bold and futuristic.  My favorite Of Montreal record was 2004’s Satanic Panic in the Attic, a modern day Sgt. Pepper if I ever heard one.  That album launched Of Montreal into the mainstream of indie rock, and they have capitalizing on its success ever since, crafting an outrageous David Bowie and Prince inspired live show, and headlining shows all across the world.  The first two songs are from the aforementioned album, and the last one, “Art Snob Solutions,” was a bonus cut from The Sunlandic Twins record that followed in the next year.  These are my favorite Of Montreal songs, and not only reflect the spirit of Elephant 6’s desire to bring vintage Beatles psychedelia back to life, but Barnes’s own dreams of writing hits and becoming a modern day rock star.  Since the middle part of the last decade, Of Montreal has veered towards a more experimental funk disco oriented sound, away from their 60s British roots that I love, and they have become an object of profound love or hate.  Again, like Neutral Milk Hotel, I fall somewhere in the middle, not entirely digging their newer stuff, but not dismissing them at all due to my knowledge of the supreme accomplishments Kevin has achieved with his group.  He is just following his muse down a path where the one rule seems to be, “don’t repeat yourself,” and its a creed I wished more artists would live by.

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Neutral Milk Hotel, In The Aeroplane Over the Sea, King of Carrot Flowers Parts 1-3

Posted in Neutral Milk Hotel, Youtube Favs on September 21st, 2011 by Willie

Jeff Mangum’s “Neutral Milk Hotel” was the third founding wing in the Elephant 6 Collective.  If the Apples in Stereo represented the happy side of the Beatles, and Olivia Tremor Control were the, ahh, trippier side of the Beatles, then Neutral Milk Hotel was Elephant 6’s approximation of Blonde on Blonde’s Bob Dylan.  Mangum’s breakthrough record, In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, was produced by founding Apple Robert Schneider, who matched Mangum’s intensely personal songs about childhood, sex, and death, with a New Orleans marching band on acid.  The album also is said to contain a loose concept concerning Anne Frank, World War II, and the holocaust.  While the lyrics are very abstract and practically impenetrable, Mangum sings them with such clarity and emotion, that somehow, these themes are evoked.  When the album was released in 1998, it was a smash hit in the indie world, and Mangum was in high demand.  Having sold over 200,000 copies of the LP, and offered an opening slot for fellow Athens natives R.E.M., Mangum decided to go into recluse mode, effectively breaking up the band, and only making sporadic live appearances in the last 13 years.  It is rumored that he is on the verge of releasing some new material through this website,, where you can stream the song “Little Birds (Unfinished Version 2),” a haunting psych ballad.  Besides that track, you can also listen to two of the strongest tracks from his now legendary album below.  The first song is the title track of the LP, is a swirling emotional journey through the sky, and the second, “King of Carrot Flowers Parts 1-3,” is just as adventurous and bizarre.  A lot of people either love or hate this band, but I fall somewhere in the middle.  I’m intrigued by Mangum’s obvious talent and singing style, but have always wanted more songs to get a more complete picture of the guy.  As it is, there exists only two records, some scattered songs, and not much else, which creates a scattered portrait of man only really known by his close friends. I actually think that’s a pretty cool feet for a musicians like Mangum.  Stay tuned tomorrow as we begin to explore the E6’s auxiliary members!

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The Olivia Tremor Control, Love Athena, Memories of Jacqueline 1906, Black Foliage (Itself)

Posted in The Olivia Tremor Control, Youtube Favs on September 20th, 2011 by Willie

The oddly named Olivia Tremor Control hail from Ruston, Louisiana, and are probably the most beautiful thing ever to come out of that place.  Along with Robert Schneider’s Apples in Stereo, the OTC were founding members of the Elephant 6 Collective, the group of like-minded psychedelic  enthusiasts who sought to re-inject the world with the sort of pure kaleidoscopic bliss not heard since 1967.  Fronted by the songwriting team of Bill Doss and Will Cullen Hart, Bill and Will churned out two timeless records of 90s indie rock, possibly the best ever, with back to back double albums, Dusk at Cubist Castle and Black Foliage.  These records are monuments to their ability to carve beauty out of sound.  Filled with fragments, song experiments, and some of the greatest psychedelic pop songs ever, the two records weave together in a gorgeous cacophony of sonic splendor.  If you’re the kind of person who loves the Beatles “White Album,” and always wondered what the  Beach Boys completed Smile would sound like, just buy, download, or steal the OTC’s records immediately.  The band never released any official music video that I know of, so you’ll have to do with straight up still youtube videos as samples, but my preview is going to glide you along OTC’s chronological history.  The first song, “Love Athena,” is from their earliest days, appearing on compilation records California Demise and Singles and Beyond.  It is the great white whale of underground psychedelic pop rock, filling you with feelings of nostalgic love for perfect lost days.  I kind of hate how they mumble some of the greatest lyrics ever written.  Just check out the chorus, “Shining like Athena in a silver suit of armor, Her love is like a nail and now I’ll bring down the hammer, Sprouting like a flower on a hill top where I’ll find her, Where I’ll plant a seed and watch it grow into the streaming light of love.”  Unbelievable poetry.  The next song, “Memories of Jacqueline 1906,” is from Dusk at Cubist Castle, and is just a perfect rock and roll raga.  I have no idea what the song is about, but its basically like a lost melody the Beatles might have churned out in early 1968 when they were meditating in India.  That introductory electric and acoustic guitar part is so perfect, my God, just play it!  Last is the song “Black Foliage (Itself)” from the epic Black Foliage record, (itself.)  Hah.  This song is just a masterpiece of sonic architecture, with sounds rushing in and out, all orbiting around a melody and words so dark and beautiful.  I love how the song keeps crashing into itself like ocean waves at midnight.  All this stuff is hard not to describe abstractly, so I really suggest you get right to work and listen to these tracks, then get everything they’ve ever done.  Before  I go, if they are reading this, I just want to thank the Olivia Tremor Control for creating some of the greatest music of all time, and inspiring me to make music as well.  From one Willie to a Bill and Will, you guys are the best.

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The Apples in Stereo, I Told You Once

Posted in The Apples in Stereo, Youtube Favs on September 19th, 2011 by Willie

When I was 17 years old, I first heard Her Wallpaper Reverie, a sort of mini Apples in Stereo LP, and I was blown away.  It was the first time I’d ever heard anyone from the Elephant 6 Collective, and they were making the exact sort of music I was missing in the world.  In my mind, I pictured front man Robert Schneider as a young, handsome, and skinny punk rocker, a new symbol for the pop world to rally around.  Little did I know he was a portly balding redheaded nerd with glasses.  The resurrection of neo psychedelic pop would have to wait for a more photogenic rock star to emerge, but goddamn did Robert and the Apples know how to make songs.  Obsessed with the Beatles and the Beach Boys, Robert and his band of merry rockers cut some of the catchiest and well recorded rock and roll of his generation, all in relative cult like obscurity.  His one problem were his lyrics, which ran the gamut between childlike and stupid, and often ruined the gorgeous creative gems he would cut with silly irrelevance.  This in no way stops the band from being great, or fun, but in my mind, holds them back from being anything really daring or meaningful.  It’s kind of a harsh criticism, because the music Robert was making was so beautiful, that the lyrical content should be considered an afterthought to his overall concept of bringing true psychedelic pop back to life.  His accomplishments in this field influenced a ton of great bands including Of Montreal, Neutral Milk Hotel, and Olivia Tremor Control, all groups found on the E6 roster.  The song below, “I Told You Once,” from 2010’s Travellers in Space and Time, is another example of Robert’s insane ability to write perfect pop music with flawless mathematical precision.  This song, and all the songs from the album, are heavily influenced by ELO’s Time, the only ELO record I’ve ever listened to coincidentally.  Time was a pompous, overblown, snyth rock explosion, and not for anyone but serious pop music nerds.  The fact that Robert of the Apples sites this as a major influence endears me to no end, and is proof positive that even the most inane cultural artifacts all have their worshipers.  All this talk about the Apples and E6 is taking me hard and fast down memory lane, so expect more of this stuff all week.

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