This is one of those bands in the so-called Elephant 6 collective -- a bunch of Beatles/Beach Boys/psychedelia-obsessed musicians. And everyone in the "collective" has his/her own band. Which is not always a good thing, especially if you've heard how boring an Apples in Stereo album is. But this Neutral Milk Hotel doesn't stick to the psych-pop formula that most E6 bands do -- they play a weird, fuzzy sort of folk-rock.
I don't usually include links to fan sites, but this one is really good -- it's got mp3s and stuff.
lineup: Jeff Mangum (vocals, guitar, drums); accompanied by a bunch of other people
review index: On Avery Island / In the Aeroplane Over the Sea
missing albums: none
Best songs: Song Against Sex, You've Passed, Where You'll Find Me Now, Gardenhead / Leave Me Alone
Worst songs: Pree-Sisters Swallowing a Donkey's Eye, Marching Theme
Okay, well, nobody's perfect. Singer/songwriter/guitarist/drummer Jeff Mangum hasn't quite got it down yet. Nearly every song is given the same, fuzzed-out production (which really gets annoying after a while). There's a fourteen-minute blast of noise using Indonesian instruments ("Pree-Sisters Swallowing a Donkey's Eye") as well as a grating casio/fuzz instrumental ("Marching Theme"). But sift through the dregs and you'll find several quality songs: the upbeat "Song Against Sex", mournful "You've Passed", and melancholy "Where You'll Find Me Now" (though it shares its melody with "A Baby for Pree", just two tracks before it!). The brief organ/trombone duet "Avery Island / April 1st" is also quite nice, as is most of the rest. But it's just not as consistently mind-blowing as In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, so you should start with that one first, then get this one if you feel like it. Okay?
Best songs: In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, Holland 1945, Oh Comely, Ghost, etc
Worst songs: absolutely NONE at all
Friggin' heck. This has to be one of the most transcendant jumps in quality ever. On Avery Island was good, sure, but it was bogged down by an inherent sameness in the production and that stupid 14-minute thing at the end. This is just 40 minutes of perfection. Not one minute is wasted on this album -- even the two instrumentals ("The Fool" and an untitled track) are crucial to the album as a whole. Also, this time the album is much better in the production dept. On Avery, Mangum played darn near everything himself. This time there's a more full-fledged band (consisting of Mangum (vocals/guitars/organ), Scott Spillane (horns), Jeremy Barnes (drums), and Julian Koster (singing saw/bowed banjo/accordion), with a few others others helping out). The album still gets sort of lo-fi in the rockin' out parts ("King of Carrot Flowers, Part Three", "Holland 1945" and "Ghost"), but on the whole it sounds like Skylarking compared to Avery.
So we get to the music. Half the album is just Mangum's singing and guitar playing; in particular, "Oh Comely" is eight minutes and nineteen seconds of that, and it never gets boring. Not for one second. I'd make a snide comment about Dylan here if I could stand his voice enough to listen to any of his long songs. Anyway, I could go on to describe other songs, but I honestly could not do them justice. The closest thing to a straightforward pop tune (well, the album isn't that "difficult" a listen, but it's certainly not the sort of thing you'd hear on the radio) on this one is the title track (it's based on the 50's ballad I-vi-IV-V chord progression), and it's probably the one I'd recommend for someone wishing to sample the album. Otherwise, the best way to hear this is to just get it. If you don't like it, sell it on eBay. But I really hope you will like it.
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