The Orange Twin Conservation Community, the Athens, Ga., artists' colony which serves as the de facto Elephant Six compound, might as well be the Acropolis. Elephant Six effectively closed shop in 2002 and many of its flagship acts appear to have dropped off the radar. Granted, it seems Robert Schneider will never stop wringing giddiness out of the Apples in Stereo and one-time second-tier player Kevin Barnes has found a highly rewarding, well-deserved second-wind with his long-lived group of Montreal. But let's not forget that the whole effort began on the backs of childhood chums Schneider, Jeff Mangum, Bill Doss, and gregarious ringleader Will Cullen Hart. In this decade, Hart has dealt with a life-changing diagnosis, so it's a happy surprise that his new Signal Morning saw completion at all.
In the Golden Age of the lo-fi 90s, Schneider indulged his Beach Boys fetish in the Apples and Mangum sculpted his Dylan insecurities into the now mythic Neutral Milk Hotel, while Hart swashbuckled with Doss a Zorro Z (or Psychedelic P) across the prevailing rock sphere with the Olivia Tremor Control. Closer to Hart's sensibilities was his subsequent project Circulatory System, a more serene group largely composed of the same OTC players, minus co-collaborator Bill Doss, which focused on some of the lusher and more experiment-laden textures often found near the stumbletine end of an Olivia Tremor Control record. But following the celebrated self-titled debut and a CD-R, Circulatory System took seven mysterious years off, the only noise being made by an Olivia Tremor Control reunion mini-tour.
In late 2008, Hart revealed that one reason for the layoff was his struggle with the diagnosis and symptoms of multiple sclerosis. The disease had affected his mood and energy in recent years and continues to interrupt his artistic output, but careful management of the disease may allow Hart years of asymptomatic life, Thus the understandably delayed Signal Morning, the group's second proper full-length, enters an indie music culture quickly forgetting the indelible mark made by the Elephant 6. Nevermind that en vogue lo-fi groups like No Age, Wavves, and Deerhunter built their philosophy of bedroom experimentalism at least partly on Hart's gauze-wrapped template.
With Signal Morning, however, Hart picks up pretty much right where he left off-- maybe even reaching back to OTC. As "This Morning (We Remembered Everything)" rolls along, cellos churn ahead of grating guitars and what sounds like a mellotron, constantly wobbling off kilter picking itself up, dusting itself off and always managing not to devolve into complete chaos (or at least, not for long). Likewise, Hart's lyrics have always been infamous for their tendency to invite the listener into a Gondry-esquepact of make-believe. "We", "us" and "you" must be the most common words in Hart's palette, and they splay in full display with scattered lines like "We still make up this world as we go along" on "Particle Parades". The record's melodic songcraft, inventive yet reflective, tumbles out so effortlessly that it's almost an afterthought. Hart and his co-collaborators fashion a shambling take on psychedelic rock, flaunting experimental production that was undoubtedly intricate yet never burdened by professionalism. Think George Martin or Brian Wilson in tatters.
The more compact psych-rock delivery mechanism of the Olivia Tremor Control imbuesSignal Morning hits with a breakneck pace of ideas, matching the Circulatory System's scale (which sometimes threw in sixty or more concurrent tracks). Sure, the last record noodled around with short, dense tracks just as Signal does, but it found its grounding in fully formed pieces like "Yesterday's World", "The Lovely Universe", and "Waves of Bark and Light". By contrast, "Particle Parades", "Round Again", and "Signal Morning" spin delicious ellipses, developing verses or riffs only to throw them out for stylistic shifts sometimes multiple times in a work.
That's Signal Morning's greatest strength: It's a supremely busy record that at the same time doesn't sound fussed over. When the record's been seven years in the making, it's easy to assume that the output has been over-designed (see: Chinese Democracy), but Signal rings fresh. Will Hart's health might hinder his further musical output, and of course no one would deny that his priorities lie in managing his illness, but perhaps the most reassuring aspect of the record that Hart is still able to share one more piece of his gleefully damaged vision. Then again, you never know-- the E6 logo has been showing up on more than a few record covers these days, and one of the most exciting effects of the original Golden Age was that it begat a Renaissance.
— Mike Orme, September 3, 2009