You are not going to like this album.
Well, at first.
You see, Neutral Milk Hotel (and singer Jeff Mangum) is, for the most part, an acquired taste. The music isn’t overly produced, it is mostly an acoustic guitar (with some occasional drums and electric guitar) and a nasally singer who’s words make no sense at first. On occasion a trumpet will sound and sometimes the lyrics make sense on their own. Most of all, it sounds unfinished and left abandoned like a ghost town filled with memories. Then things start to merge with the present and, through the empty windows, each track begins to show you something amazing. That is when you know you see this album for what it is, a piece of art.
Why This Album?
I remember distinctly the first time I heard Neutral Milk Hotel. I was living in a small college town in East Texas with my wife. A coworker of hers and I become fast friends and started to trade music. He had quite the eclectic taste and over time I was introduced to a plethora of bands including Mercury Rev, The Mountain Goats and many others. It was then that he brought up Neutral Milk. He warned me that I may not like it at first and that it would be something I would have to really listen to many times to appreciate fully. So, I gave it a listen…and I hated it. I finished the album with him watching my reactions the whole time, me hoping that there was something redeeming about this strange mash of sounds but I simply couldn’t find it.
He asked what I thought and I was honest with him, I didn’t care for it but I appreciated that he introduced me to the band. I could tell he was a little hurt but then he smiled, pulled the cd from the player and handed it to me case and all.
‘Keep it”, he said, “In a few weeks, give it another listen and then let me know how you feel.” I tried to turn him down, cd’s were not cheap and I had no intention of listening to this God Awful album again. In the end I accepted his gift and I am glad I did.
I didn’t listen to the album in a few weeks like I had promised. I don’t think I even listened to it in a few months but it was at some point some time later that I picked it up again and let it play. It was then that it hit me. This was something special.
I’m not sure what it was on the second listen that made it click with me but there was something about it that really just…worked. I found myself wanting to listen to it over and over. Soon, I had become obsessed with the album and started to research the singer, Jeff Mangum. Apparently, some years earlier he had become an indie idol and then just vanished. The fame of it all had gotten to him and he pretty much just dropped out of music for a while. The thing that really struck me about the album was that it was inspired by Mangum’s reading of the Diary of Anne Frank. He said that he cried for days after reading her story and wished that there was some way he could go back in time to save the young lady. If you listen to the lyrics, you can here it in there, under the layers of Mangums lyrics.
This isn’t one that you can only listen to one track or a few tracks of. This is one that you need to listen to the entirety of the album in order to really appreciate it. It is one that, as I said above, will require multiple listenings but, if you are like me, you will find it hauntingly beautiful in it’s simplicity.
I hate providing an entire album on here as I really feel you need to support the artist. In this case, I just want you to promise me, if you like it or if you find anything in it that touches you, buy the album. I will provide you with a place you can get it below.
Ok, Where do I get it?
You can get this album from Amoeba Records here for around $15. you can also listen to this and Mangum’s other work via spotify. Give it a go.
You are not going to like this album, but over time, you’ll come to love it.
Late to the Game 3/31/2019 (Originally published 05/08/2018)
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