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Exclusive First Listen: Circulatory System

It took nearly eight years to make, but Circulatory System's breathtakingly inventive new album, Signal Morning, justifies the wait. The 17 new tracks, culled from hours of recorded material and meticulously pieced together in more than half a dozen different studios, are sonic wonders. Obliterated guitars rumble over strange, fluttering textures. Vintage synth lines and quirky found sounds tumble together amid psychedelic melodies and harmonies. It's a mysterious and mesmerizing world of orchestrated chaos that offers new discoveries with each listen.

Signal Morning, available here in its entirety two weeks before its official release, arose from the mind of Will Cullen Hart, a painter, singer and songwriter who formed Circulatory System in Athens, Ga., after his previous band (The Olivia Tremor Control) split up in 2000. Cullen Hart wrote and recorded the songs mostly by himself, then gave the sketches to Circulatory System bandmates Charlie Johnston and Nesey Gallons to sequence and edit together.

"They had 30 or 40 things to choose from," Cullen Hart says. "At some point, I just left all the editing up to them. I did some rhythm experiments. I just gave them a box of CDs, and I trusted them. It was a good move. They added some horns and backing vocals. It was awesome."

Signal Morning is Circulatory System's first new album since its debut release in 2001. The group never intended to go on an extended hiatus. But Cullen Hart says that, in the years that followed, he found himself unable to concentrate or work, and spent much of his time sleeping and wondering what was wrong with him. When he started going blind in one eye, he finally saw a doctor and was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.

"It was hard for me to get up and do anything," he says. "I lost my brain. It's really crazy. I started getting paranoid and crazy. And you're thinking, 'What the hell is wrong with me?' It was a real drag. And still is. But at least now I know."

Cullen Hart says that medication has helped him regain his eyesight and bring other symptoms of the disease under control. His recovery, along with support and encouragement from his bandmates, led to the long-awaited Signal Morning.

"This is the happiest I've ever been in my life, honestly," Cullen Hart says. "It's really cool. [Multiple sclerosis] is just a minor inconvenience now. I'm really excited. I like to play live now. We're going to keep working."

Cullen Hart says Circulatory System already has more than 30 songs ready for its next album. He also says that The Olivia Tremor Control, which hasn't released a new record in a decade, is working on new material.

"We've been getting together on Sundays, every Sunday, getting together at [OTC member] Bill Doss' house because he's got a nice setup," Cullen Hart says. "We had a few songs left over from [the 1999 album] Black Foliage that we did. Combined right, maybe they'll work."

Signal Morning features all of the original members of The Olivia Tremor Control (Bill Doss, Eric Harris, John Fernandes and Peter Erchick), along with Circulatory System's Charlie Johnston, Derek Almstead, Suzanne Allison and Nesey Gallons. Jeff Mangum and Julian Koster of Neutral Milk Hotel also appear on the disc. All of the contributing artists are part of the Elephant 6 collective, a sprawling group of likeminded musicians with a love for neo-psychedelic and experimental pop.

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Robin Hilton is a producer and co-host of the popular NPR Music show All Songs Considered.
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