Release Date: Sep 8, 2009
Record label: Cloud
Genre(s): Indie, Rock
After years of near-silence from the upstarts of the Elephant 6 Recording Company, there’s been a resurgence of sorts in recent years. There’s been a wildly successful “holiday surprise” tour comprising various members of the collective that managed to will resident genius-in-hiding Jeff Mangum into his first public performance in seven years, a flurry of recording activity bearing the newly-reinstated E6 logo, a reunion tour (and a possible forthcoming album) from the Olivia Tremor Control, and now Circulatory System’s long-delayed follow-up to its 2001 self-titled debut. As exciting as all of this buzzing motion surely is to long-time fans, it’s also appropriate, given the familial warmth always inherent in the work of this close-knit artistic community: a family may drift apart for years at a time, but in most cases, they always find their way back home.
The decline in productivity (if not popularity) of the Elephant 6 collective's flagship bands -- Neutral Milk Hotel and Olivia Tremor Control -- is usually met with a sort of grateful nostalgia. The bands' backward-looking '60s pop experiments predicted the rise of, and paved the way for, acts as various as Animal Collective and fellow E6ers Of Montreal. Jeff Mangum and Will Cullen Hart's seemingly willful retreat into obscurity merely adds weight to their influence.
Intrepid sonic explorer sets sail atop trusty 4-track, searching for meaning in the face of afflictionLike most projects involving Olivia Tremor Control co-founder Will Cullen Hart, Signal Morning is an epic, challenging, noisy psychedelic opus of the highest order. The first music he’s released since 2001’s self-titled Circulatory System, this new collage of sound and song—featuring Neutral Milk Hotel’s Jeff Mangum and Julian Koster, and members of OTC—contains snippets of material dating back to the early ’90s: bits and pieces of aging 4-track cassettes expertly manipulated and blended with material Hart has written over the last decade. Hart can play most anything you put in his hands, but his real instrument is that Tascam 4-track recorder.
The Orange Twin Conservation Community, the Athens, Ga., artists' colony which serves as the de facto Elephant Six compound, might as well be the Acropolis. Elephant Six effectively closed shop in 2002 and many of its flagship acts appear to have dropped off the radar. Granted, it seems Robert Schneider will never stop wringing giddiness out of the Apples in Stereo and one-time second-tier player Kevin Barnes has found a highly rewarding, well-deserved second-wind with his long-lived group of Montreal.
Things have been unusually active for the Elephant 6 Collective as of late. Last winter’s Holiday Surprise Tour garnered a lot of attention, especially with the unadvertised appearance of the elusive Mr. Mangum. Apparently the Olivia Tremor Control has been warming up with the hopes of a new album in the works.
Beginning with the rumbling and enjoyably bass-heavy "Woodpecker Greeting Worker Ant" -- a title that may explain the air of gentle threat throughout, despite the concluding voices of winsome cheer -- Signal Morning finds a veteran of Olivia Tremor Control, Will Cullen Hart, with help from not only all his former bandmates but fellow travelers from Neutral Milk Hotel, returning to the Circulatory System name after a break of eight years. The fact that one of those fellow travelers is Jeff Mangum will be reason enough for that performer's rabid cult to take an interest, but this is neither a supergroup nor a full reunion of Hart's older band. It's just Hart working within the psych/experimental/indie vein that made Elephant 6 a byword for many (and which helped lay the groundwork for the even wider acceptance of acts like Animal Collective), though there is something unusual about hearing a performer now working with influences at two times' remove -- the late-'60s period of randomly playful and experimental rock that helped drive the Elephant 6 collective forward and that own scene's now decade-plus legacy.