Neutral Milk Hotel

Everything Is (1995) – EP (Fire Records reissue)


After numerous demos, this fuzzy lo-fi EP recorded during the early ’90s by the pained Jeff Mangum and friends sees our soon-to-be glorified cultist experimenting with acoustic melodies and “punk rhythms”.

The opening two tracks have something dense and not at all grotesque about them with odd melodic electronic salubriousness and jangly folk/psych acoustic, but the child-like outlook in the songs are trite and vapid – “But I awake and see the streets are ice cream”, “… Like ice cream floats and dreams”. Again the final track has some sort of sticky, bombarding electronic essence and cleansing acoustic, but I draw the line at “Vegetable hand on my perfume”.

I adore an artist channeling his/her inner child but I don’t think the word “man” should be in their surname for a start. “Rain is a perfectly sculpted garden of wetness”… Thanks, Jeff. (B-)


On Avery Island (1996)


Jeff Mangum’s individualism and insularity yet bursting at the seams to get life’s troublesome woes off of his chest is admirable and this record even possesses glimpses of being lyrically discerning; playfully staring suicide in its ominous face (I think), “anti”-drugs (I think), more grown-up child-like mannerisms (ICE CREAM van chimes) and the fragility of love (definitely).

However, surely even the most calculated of disenfranchised youths, soil-hugging hipsters and anti-flesh eating, self-aggrandising planet-savers find this guy overhyped, I for one do. Pained vocals are all good if they’re at times skittishly merged with the sarcastic (I think) “Because I’m so happy that you didn’t die”, but they’re not. The integration of brass instruments and horns with the acoustic guitar and erratic move from heartfelt slow tracks to electronic bombardment is technically astute, especially the transition from “April 8th” into the nothingness of “Pree-Sisters Swallowing a Donkey’s Eye” (what?), but I’m still, and probably will forever be attempting to “get” his vocals and words.

“But don’t take those pills your boyfriend gave you/You’re too wonderful to die”, “And so I go it alone/And the pressure is great/I hold on to my own/Oh please oh don’t go away!”, “There is no dream so wake up” – these I like.

Jeff likes sweat, perfume, ice cream, dying and most importantly love. His technical skill to seamlessly integrate acoustic in amongst the drone is most certainly a skill, but if the guy wasn’t so hyped in the underpants of the underground I’d enjoy his facetious indieism a bit more. (B)


In the Aeroplane Over the Sea (1998)


This cult “classic” is trying so hard to be cult before it’s cult it’s so cult which makes it horribly uncult. Mangum’s gone from pained vocalist to pain in the hole.

The acoustic is clunky and burdensome only to be matched by the electronic slush that kind of worked in his previous ventures. If you’re searching for a workshop on how to squash nearly every instrument under the sun into a forty-minute “music” record then here you go. Trumpets, horns, organs, accordions, saxophones, mobile phones and other phones with phones within phones. There’s a lack of structure and coherency in tone and in vocals, which is the point obviously, but it doesn’t work. Some of the song titles are puerile – “The King of Carrot Flowers Pt. One”, “The King of Carrot Flowers Pts. Two & Three” and “Two-Headed Boy Pt. Two”. I appreciate the affiliation and fanboy obsession with Anne Frank, but that’s about it.

Haters gonna hate. Yes, yes they will. I hate the album cover which has a woman with what I originally thought was half an obese coconut as a head, but to my surprise is a tambourine (which is probably the only instrument that isn’t in this ghastly thing), waving at drowning boys. Wait, it might be a circular ham sandwich… actually fuck off. I hate the song titles. I hate its undeserving cult status. I hate its trying-too-hard intricacy. I hate its glossy lo-fi with non-glossy vocals.

“God is a place you will wait for the rest of your life”. That plainly observant lyric was the only straw I could attempt to grasp. (D+)


Ferris Wheel on Fire (2011) – EP


“You’re riding alone in the back of a steamer/And steaming yourself in the warm shower spray/And water rolls on off the round captain’s belly/Who’s talking to tigers from his cafeteria tray”, fuck right off, please.

Mangum’s playful acoustic is back in the ascendancy and there’s no endless orchestral smatterings to smother us, but I’ve had enough. His veganism, individuality and loathing of mobile telecommunications units at gigs are all pluses, but I can’t envisage the appeal of this cultster, I really can’t.

“And cool babies cry for the sweet taste of milking”, okay… “That milky delight that invited us all”, okay, good… “And if there’s a taste in this life more inviting”, yes, yes! “Then wake up your windows and watch as those sweet babies crawl… away!”… Right. (C-)


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