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Though its heyday has passed, the legacy of the psych-pop collective Elephant 6 has been preserved through classic records by Neutral Milk Hotel, the Apples In Stereo and the Olivia Tremor Control. Off the radar for years, Elephant 6 has recently attached its logo to a few new releases. And now comes the second album from Circulatory System, the post-Olivia Tremor Control work of Bill Doss and his dense network of collaborators.
Signal Morning is long overdue (the band’s self-titled debut came out in 2001), yet it’s instantly recognizable. It opens with the effects-swirled “Woodpecker Greeting Worker Ant,” on which Doss’s familiar harmonizing with Olivia Tremor Control cohort Will Hart competes with shuddering distortion. Featuring every member of Doss’s former band, this is a bit like déjà vu. It also re-establishes the trademark Elephant 6 sound: poppy, curtained with fuzz, casually orchestral and bursting with ideas.
Recorded in at least seven locations, the album is a joyous mess. Specific instruments aren’t always identifiable, and the 17 tracks have only the haziest outlines. Several songs simulate dialing through radio stations, a reminder that Doss can’t help playing fast and loose with structure. At times, the band are restless to a fault: The pop promise of both “The Breathing Universe” and “I You We” fades after about a minute.
Still, “This Morning (We Remembered Everything)” wrangles a strong chorus from its title, and “Round Again” is more anchored. It’s a good sign when the closing title track lunges into a ringing hook, but the song proves as fleeting as the others, ending just as abruptly. Beginners might be baffled by it all, but Elephant 6 fans have come to expect such ceaseless tinkering and intermittent flashes of genius.