There is a song on The Olivia Tremor Control’s second album called Cubist Castle is a Place We’ve Been To. And after listening to their debut, Dusk at Cubist’s Castle, it feels like a place I’ve been as well. Every listen is like a trip to some surreal place where wondrous pop and blissfully yelping psychedelica is built into every single square inch of the architecture. The creativity seeps out of every single brick of the Cubist Castle, it has hot and cold genius on tap. These are things that are ultimately self evident upon listening to the record. Normally I would call a statement like that an extreme cop out in terms of an album review. But really, give one listen to Dusk at Cubist Castle, and anything I could possibly say about it would just be redundant.
But anyway I need something else about the record to talk about, and considering I’ve already done such a stand up job describing how good it is , I suppose it is time to move on to lyrical subtleties. What is Dusk at Cubist Castle about? To answer that question rather curtly, I have absolutely no idea. And maybe that’s the point? The surreal by definition is not supposed to make sense, but somehow the lyrics don’t seem quite abstracted enough to be solely in the realm of the surreal. At times they do stray firmly into the psychedelic tangents that were pretty characteristic of late sixties and early seventies pop/rock. You know the ones im talking about, the kind of lyrics that say plenty without actually meaning anything semantically. There is plenty of that on Dusk... but there are plenty of songs that aren’t like that too, songs with sincere and direct messages. These songs tend to be the stronger numbers on Dusk... as well, tracks like No Growing (Exegesis), NYC-25 and the opener The Opera House. It’s like suddenly coming across something familiar in an otherwise foreign place.
And what do these songs have to say? Not much. Even the albums most clear moments present themselves in terms of emotional clearness rather than lyrical understanding. Lines like “pleasant dreams but please don’t sleep too long” and “what do you do when the magic’s gone” are the most poignant lines simply because they are relatable. What they mean in context of the album though is uncertain. What those lines mean to me though is almost immediately clear, and I get the real sense that others would feel that way if they also heard this record. To me these lyrics fall right outside the realm of terrible songwriting cliché, they point towards well understood ideas like heartbreak and we the listener fill in the blanks with our own creations. And sitting here listening to Dusk… for the hundred and thirty first time, I get it. I fill the walls with my own paintings and look out over ramparts of my own design. I’m there, I hear the album like it’s a piece of architecture, and when my speakers are done speaking I’m worried it’s a place I’ll never get back to. But my fears are for naught, because this is a record I will likely be coming back to for years.