Bill Doss of Olivia Tremor Control, RIP: Hear His Legacy in 15 Tracks
How the Elephant 6 co-founder and indie-psych pioneer left his gorgeous mark
FIVE SONGS THAT COULDN’T EXIST WITHOUT HIM
1. Neutral Milk Hotel – “Song Against Sex” (1996)
The key tenet of Elephant 6 — and, especially, a central point of the myth that’s grown around them — is that they made their music for each other. That is, almost all of Jeff Mangum’s initial recordings were made for a small specific audience including Bill Doss, Will Hart, Robert Schneider, and others. Neutral Milk Hotel’s Merge debut, On Avery Island is one of the few large-scale E6 projects not to contain members of the Olivia Tremor Control, but their influence is everywhere, from the recording techniques that Magnum and Schneider learned side-by-side with Doss and Hart to the mood itself, open and alive, all hands on deck, seeming like it could (and might) go anywhere and everywhere.
2. Akron/Family – “I’ll Be On the Water” (2005)
Brooklyn’s Akron/Family helped seed E6 collectivism (and collaborative ambiguity) in 21st century Brooklyn — and ditto goes for that other Collective band. But where Mssrs. Bear and Tare might self-harmonize like the best of home recorders, Akron/Family better succeeded in channeling the Liverpool-by-Athens benevolence and family vibes of the E6 tree. The smart, sweet pop of Bill Doss shines between the breaking waves of Ryan Vanderhoof’s “I’ll Be On the Water.”
3. Deerhunter – “Strange Lights” (2007)
There’s the Georgia connection, of course, between Deerhunter/Atlas Sound poobah Bradford Cox and the Olivia Tremor Control, and one can surely hear the kick of Cubist Castle’s opening “The Opera House” in the jump-cut strum that kicks off “Strange Lights. But, more importantly, one can find a through-line between Elephant 6 and nearly any current act saddled with the “psych” tag. Submerged by post-punk/pre-alt hipness for most of the ’80s and sunk by jam bands well into the ’90s, the idea of the cosmic underground was kept alight by a small, devoted group that included hardcore zinesters like Britain’s Ptolemaic Terrascope, scholarly obscurantist record collectors like Paul Major (lately of Endless Boogie), and flagship safe havens like the Elephant 6 gangs in Athens and Denver. As the Olivia Tremor Control’s poptimist-in-chief, Doss kept them coming in. One imagines they’ll be coming for a good time yet.
4. Of Montreal – “Suffer for Fashion” (2007)
A junior-league, latter-day Elephant 6er until he discovered Prince, Kevin Barnes’ earliest recordings as Of Montreal began in the deeply twee space that Doss and the Olivias inadvertently opened up. But if Apples in Stereo gave Elephant 6 a whiff of commercial potential (replete with a bleeding-edge song license to a Gap ad), it was acts like the Olivia Tremor Control that gave Elephant 6 its gravity. For Barnes, it came in the form of an audience and community until he developed his voice, a sunshine pop heart still beating audibly near the center of every one of Barnes’s poetically narcissistic sex jams.
5. Woods – “To Clean” (2009)
Brooklyn’s Woods employ the Olivia Tremor Control’s formula of charmingly shambolic pop collectivism mixed with deeper experimentation. Besides his Neil Youngy guitar bursts, Woods’ vocalist Jeremy Earls sounds like Bill Doss at his falsetto, harmonizing bestespecially on more reigned-in numbers like “To Clean” — even if it’s tape manipulator G. Lucas Crane who ended up copping Doss’ muttonchops.