on April 17, 2002
I don't think there's another artist working who can even approach the mastery of psychedelia that Will Hart has. I don't think there ever was, truth be told--and that's saying something. I mean having the full-on understanding necessary to create aural trips of symphonic complexity with conceptual coherence and dream-logic abandon. The thought that went into this record is, frankly, astounding.
Obviously, fans of Olivia Tremor Control will enjoy this record. Like OTC, the lyrics here are sort of guideposts, telling you where you are in the journey. As other reviewers note, there aren't really any "pop" songs here--though there are myriad verses and choruses pregnant with haunting melodies which melt in and out of the landscape. I find this album more musical and less jarring than the equally experimental but more sound effect-driven "Black Foliage." There is also a heightened emotional component--a great simultaneous joy and sadness which reveals itself after a few listens. Hart has taken what he learned from that "Black Foliage," married it with the tunefulness of "Cubist Castle," and come up with something that is neither of those two records. Caveat: not easy listening, and not for everyone!
Elephant 6 bands tend to trade members around. And in Circulatory System's self titled debut, members of Of Montreal, Olivia Tremor Control and Neutral Milk Hotel come together to make joyous, layered psychedelica that will just transport you away into yesterday's world.
It opens with a child counting down to "Yesterday's World," the best song the Beatles never made. But that influence dies away in the second song, "Prehistoric," with a gritty riff that surfaces in a dreamy, singsong melody. Several songs like "Diary of Wood" and the catchy "Lovely Universe" are practically a celebration of catchy psychedelic indiepop.
But Circulatory System circulates all around, including funereal ballads like the solemn "Round" or the distant, chiming "Now." They dip into indie-rock, airy pop, and employ some exotic music and sputtering sounds in "Should A Cloud Replace A Compass?" The album finishes on a stately note with the nearly music-less "Forever," where a male chorus sings solemnly that "we will live forever/and you know it's true."
Music like this is too rare -- every one of the twenty-two songs is textured, complex and brimming over with acid beauty. Like most of the better Elephant 6 bands, Circulatory System has no filler songs, nothing that seems like it was hastily slapped together. Instead, it feels like it was meticulously crafted like a piece of fine modern art.
After his work on Olivia Tremor Control's two albums and many singles, W. Cullen Hart's handling of psychedelica is no less than masterful. He creates songs that just border on pop, with plenty of catchiness and instrumental fun. But then comes those sonic sweeps, those eerie sound effects, those warm and shimmering soundscapes. In a nutshell, the music is a perfect blend of those two kinds of music.
Who other than Hart works on "Circulatory System"? About twenty-five other Elephant 6 people (including Jeff Mangum, John Fernandes and Eric Harris), and whatever instruments, radios, and sound effects fit together. That includes basses, clarinets, violins, shortwave radios, organs, ukelele, a wonderful brass arrangement, tambourine, and something called "the magic tape organ." I'm not exactly sure what that is, but it apparently works.
Hart also wrote all the songs on "Circulatory System," and they fit the music beautifully. They're very simple, very strange, and very sweet -- "we're only made of water, sand and stone/we're made of joy and make believe." With all the references to stars, suns, churches and climbing trees to follow the stars. Hart reaches his peak when he wrote, "Rain makes shapes fall on the lights/and thelamppostss, door to door/should a cloud replace a compass?/How long can we think of the world/as simply up or down (black and white)/when inside out has come (and gone)."
Circulatory System's first -- and so far, only -- album is a rare and rewarding musical experience, a psychedelic musical blend that takes the best of the Beatles and Olivia Tremor Control. Beautiful, enchanting and thoroughly engaging.
on February 22, 2002
oh, how they know when to growl the composition into three-dimensional musics where headphone melt, ears implode, brain know humming bird whirls, whizzez, knows no boundary, sheep decend into my vortex mind, dissolve my going, reborn my coming mind, animal plant and mineral worlds enter the womb wind, howl!
on March 12, 2002
I'll be honest. Before this record, I had only the faintest idea of who William Cullen Hart was. I knew there was a thing called Olivia Tremor Control, and that was somehow tied to Neutral Milk Hotel, and lots of indie kids really loved him, but that was it. So it would probably help to have some background in Hart's ideas to understand this one, but oh well. It's a strange record to review, and I don't know where to start, so I think I'll just throw out good words to describe the album, and take it from there.
DREAMY - In more ways than one, this is a very dreamy album. There's tons of guest players on it, and they're all playing things from guitars to violins and clarinets. Everything's on here, so the sound is constantly changing. And it's all graced with an amazing touch of ambience, which is what I'm guessing William Hart's signature sound is. Things fade in and fade out, and it all just sort of drifts along. It's psychedelic, actually. It's also very dream-like because it seems to bend time. That's in the lyrics, too, but I'll get to that later. Hart has an ear for mixing like Brian Wilson. "Prehistoric" doesn't have any more instrumentation than two guitars, one of which is backwards. He infuses this song with the same dreamlike melodies as "Outside Blasts" which seemingly has a hundred tracks of sound. Hart's voice, meanwhile, sounded strained, almost like a ghost.
TIME-BENDING - An interview I read with William Hart helped a lot with album. In it he was talking about all these crazy theories he has, about all of time happening at once. To him, there could be a dinosaur walking right by him and it wouldn't surprise him, because we're all on the same wavelength or something. It was weird complicated scientific stuff, but he definitely believes in it. As he sings at one point, "It's a lovely universe / We use more than five senses."
MELODIC - It doesn't matter how many instruments you cram in, or how much ambience you give it, an album can't work without good songwriting. Like I said before, Hart follows Brian Wilson and writes some pretty sweet melodies. I guess that's why he's part of the Elephant 6 collective. "Illusion," if it were recorded differently it could easily pass for a Paul McCartney song.The climax of the songwriting takes place during "Outside Blasts" and "Inside Blasts." The first is march-like, has Hart singing about "circular time" and features what sounds like samples of vikings chanting but is really Hart and a few others slowed down. It's led off by an accordion at a funeral procession. The same accordion starts "Inside Blasts" and the song drifts along as Hart sings about worlds occuring at the same time, then the music rises up and Hart purposefully sings, "Who wants to rise above these buildings tonight? / I'm a tree that follows the stars / And who wants to rise above their chemistry tonight?" Violin, piano, Moog synthesizer, acoustic guitars, cello, trumpet, trombone, pipe organ, accordion, banjo: Those are some of the instruments I recognized from the song. And it all blends. It's like you're hearing the song assemble in William Hart's head.
on October 18, 2001
I was wondering how long it would take amazon to get this gem of a CD in. This is some great work by Will Hart and others. So good in fact, that I will shed few tears over the apparent demise of the Olivia Tremor Control. What's great about this CD is that it has something to attract all OTC faithful. Some liked OTC only for their obvious talent for penning Revolver-era pop rock songs with the psychadelic edge to them. I fall into that category. Some like the sound collages and noise tracks. Though I found SOME of that stuff interesting, I would have preferred, in the case of Black Foliage, a CD full of mostly music tracks to the jumbled layout of Black Foliage.
Circulatory System cuts out the random noise tracks (you know, the ones that sound like there was a small child loose in the studio?). The songs fade into a bit of noise, but after only a few seconds, a new song rises out of the ashes of the old. That's one of the most charming aspects of this CD. It flows seamlessly most of the way through. Also, the songs are short, but absolutely hypnotic. They aren't nearly as poppy as the OTC output, but they're just as gorgeous...complete with layered instruments and other sounds, and majestic lyrics. Will Hart's voice isn't a typical singing voice, but it just fits his music perfectly. The overall feel of the music is dark and dreamy. You will feel like you're in a hazy but vivid dream, if that makes any sense. And the ride lasts for close to an hour. Enjoy.
on August 1, 2006
Very, very late to the world of William Hart and the rest of the elephant 6 crew. I had been diggin on Neutral Milk Hotel for a couple of years, and found this album by accident while goofing around on here around 6 months ago. Never really thought that the rest of the bands on the record label would match NMH, I thought they were the band that made the record label hip to the alternative/underground crowd, but well, now I the realize that Will Hart is probably better than Jeff Mangum ever would have been, but without the cool disappearing act to add to his legend. (nothing against mangum, he's incredible)
So I bought the album, whatever, just out of boredom really. I listened to it maybe half way though and thought it was just too boring, too cluttered, too quiet, iffy sound quality, with no distinct sound, etc. A week later I was headed to my friend's house to just hang out, get high, and listen to a rotation of music. I thought about this album, and thought maybe it would fit the evening's atmosphere. I gave it a test listen, sober, and found it more enjoyable and very trippy sounding. I put it on later that night, when I was very far gone into a state I can't even describe now, and the album basically struck fear into my soul. The 4th song, "Outside Blasts" made me feel scared, beautiful, lost, and found all at the same time. After that song, I was sent somewhere far, far away and would drift in and out of reality during the remainder of the album.
After listening to this album about a million times after, I would say that this album is one of my top 10 albums of all time. Songs like OUTSIDE BLASTS, JOY, THE LOVELY UNIVERSE, INSIDE BLASTS, DAYS TO COME, THE PILLOW, and SHOULD A CLOUD REPLACE A COMPASS are forever embedded into my mind. Although, I would strongly encourage you to NOT LISTEN TO THE SONGS INDIVIDUALLY; not until you have gotten into the album. This is an album that was intended to be listened to as a whole because of the way the album flows. Almost perfect, maybe it is. And while this album is incredible to listen to while you are in outer space, you will want to listen to it stone sober just as well. This album is just simply great no matter your mood. You can't help but feel good while listening to this; every note seems to hit you like a heroin shot to the mailine vein. Right now, this album is on constant rotation with My Morning Jacket's "At Dawn." I could listen to these two albums only, for the rest of my life and probably be okay with my musical world.
on February 4, 2002
I'm so happy I found this disk! I became a fan of the Olivia Tremor Control after seeing them open for Stereolab at the Troubadour in L.A. in '99. It was an amazing show, with almost everyone in the band singing harmonies and switching instruments playing percussion and horns and things. Soon after that, I bought both of their full length disks and was very impressed. Anyway, for Christmas a friend of mine sent me a mix cd with some songs on it by Circulatory System. He just listed the song titles, but while listening to it, I thought the voice sounded familiar. So I looked up more about them, and found out that it is some of the members of Olivia doing a new project on their own label! I got the disk and was swept off my feet, the songs have a timeless quality about them, and everything about the album seems to fit together in a very connected way, from the themes that run through the lyrics, to the band name, even the name of their label, Cloud Recordings. The main songwriter, Will Hart, is also a painter (his artwork graces both Black Foliage and Dusk...), and the paintings that accompany Circulatory System seem to pull together elements from his earlier styles and combine them to pleasingly surreal effect. In this day and age, I find it very exciting to find artists that have the ability to write, produce, record, design, distribute...do everything themselves and have it turn out this gorgeous. I feel I can really stand behind this album and give my highest recommendation that anyone investigate further.
on October 17, 2002
After reading a review of this CD from [...] (they gave it a 9.5 out of 10--an extremely high rating for these music critics) I decided to give Circulatory System a try. I can say that, without a doubt, it is an amazing CD. Although it was totally different from what I had expected, listening to Ciculatory System was a spiritual experience. I know that it sounds hokey, in this day and age, but I really felt a part of me that I hadn't known was there.
Anyway, I highly recommend this CD...if I could give only one CD to every person I met, for most people, I would give them this one.
on October 14, 2003
Length - 58:35
Psychedelic but not poppy, convoluted but not inextricable, abstruse but not bewildering, slow but not boring, it's Circulatory System! Other reviewers touched upon the prodigious musicianship and effort put forth by Will Hart, the man behind this musical machine known as Circulatory System. The songs are indeed very complicated and elaborate, but always soluble, mixing into your bloodstream. The willowy gusts of dreamy images whisper in your ears and weigh your heart down, as the immensity of this record is truly overwhelming. Casual pop fans should steer clear of Circulatory System, but anyone willing to broaden horizons and expand minds through this gorgeous, orchestrated dream sequence would be remiss to not own this album. My favorite tracks include Yesterdays World, Joy, The Lovely Universe, Illusion, Days to Come, Symbols and Maps and Forever. This album is a diamond in the rough. Obtain and enjoy forever.
on July 30, 2005
(i'm 29). i share a certain trait with william cullen hart: we both are rezzurecting the best elements of 60's psych but putting our own spin on it. this is a psychedelic record, no doubt, but i would have serious second thoughts of putting this on while in any kind of chemically elevated state of consciousness. it is very very dark. it is not catchy. it seems at times almost intangible. and those are some of the traits that make it an amazing listen(headphones recommended).
honestly, it's basically the third OTC record. it's got the same production ideas, which is basically, throw in fifty tracks and see what happens, but this time around the seemingly disparate instruments and sounds are astonishingly cohesive and part of a whole in each song. but again, the songs are not catchy. but they're good. it's hard to describe. just be assured that, if you are an OTC fan or just a fan of psychedelia in general, mr. hart has once again delivered the goods for those of us who like listening to music that warps perceptions and gets you to "that place" without drugs. one more thing, his lyrics are very good. he delves into the concept(one i particularly agree with) that time is indeed circular and the whole cause and effect scenario is outdated. also he hints often to the fact that the inside is the outside, i.e. it's all in your head, the entire universe inside you. that kinda thing. very heavy, far removed from 'dusk at cubist castle' days. all in all a near perfect psychedelic concept album. cheers.