Olivia Tremor Control: “The Opera House” (Dusk at Cubist Castle, 1997)

I’m not sure what to say here. I just saw that Bill Doss passed away, and I can’t quite get my head around that. I just saw him a couple weeks ago at the Pitchfork Music Festival, and he seemed healthy and energetic. He was only 43. What an awful thing for his friends and family. 

Doss’ first band, Olivia Tremor Control, and the Elephant Six Collective he and that band helped found, made some of the most formative music for a generation of indie rock kids. their two LPs, Dusk at Cubist Castle and Black Foliage, were crazily inventive, beautifully recorded albums, and moreover, ever time I go back and listen to them, I’m blown away by the quality of the songwriting.

These guys could have been content with studio tinkering and covering their songs in flanger, but Doss and his main songwriting partner, Will Cullen Hart, weren’t content to have a sound—they knew it wouldn’t amount to much if they didn’t have songs, too. “Hideaway,” “California Demise,” “Can You come Down With Us,” “Jumping Fences”… these are some of the best songs of the late 90s, period.

And there’s also “The Opera House,” which is one of my favorite album openers ever. From the first tickle of guitar, it feels like it’s ready to take on a voyage, and then it does. I can’t think of too much other music that surges like “Opera House. This song is positively stuffed with sounds, but it’s never chaotic. All of those seemingly random synthesizer phrases and bursts of tape noise contribute directly to the song’s momentum. I can’t even imagine constructing this; it must have been incredibly hard work. try not to feel energized when they sing “we feel okay!”

It was work Doss did happily, and we’re the ones who got to benefit from it. Bill Doss is gone. I can hardly believe it. I’ll be listening to this a lot today.

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