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09 March 2009 @ 07:42 pm
Neutral Milk Hotel - In the Aeroplane Over the Sea  


There is some sort of popular opinion thing on this album where it has been placed above all in the whole '90s Indie-rock schematic and I'm just not buying into it. To myself, the debut 'On Avery Island' was by far superior to this album. In fact I have a full recollection of being rather disappointed in this second effort when it squelched itself out in late 1997/early 1998. I came into it fully wanting to be amazed or amused but felt neither. I did go to see Neutral Milk Hotel open for Superchunk when the show came to Pittsburgh in the winter of '98. I was somewhat protective when Jeff Mangum stood center stage and bravely sang off key about how he loved the baby Jesus, in much the same way I was of Elliot Smith when he bravely squeaked through his Oscar show performance on television around the same time. It was uncomfortable and quiet, and the kids weren't there to see them, they were there for Superchunk. Funny how now nobody would care about Superchunk and they'd be opening for NMH, but there was very little support in the room for them at that moment in time. They were just a bunch of scruffy looking freaks from the south playing music that was uncomfortably weird even when it took off in some weird punk rock noise moment. I have no memory of them playing anything from 'On Avery Island,' it seemed like it was all from this record. In spite of my protectiveness towards them that night, I didn't really like or "get" this album to the extent that it seems like everyone I was protecting them from eventually did.

While I'm saving 'On Avery Island' for a very special entry of its own (brought to you by the Hallmark channel!), the contrast between the two has always been one of the more interesting ones. Usually it's the sophomore release that fails to live up to the debut, but popular wisdom has reversed that dynamic in this instance. I'm not sure why, but there you have it. For myself, however, I just didn't get why Mangum ruined an album that was great musically with such horribly tortured singing. This is coming from a person who normally loves horribly tortured singing if it's done right, in a moments of Waits channeling Beefheart or David Thomas channeling Nina Simone in "I Will Wait." Mangum, however, just sounds...like he's doing it on purpose. You can't say, having heard 'On Avery Island,' that he doesn't know how to sing reasonably in key with an equal amount of zest. Purposely bad singing just pisses me off. Would I have avoided the last eight years of Nickelback otherwise? Well, of course I would've avoided Nickelback if I could...but I never voted for them into the office of "Rock Band on the Radio" any more than I voted for that f*cking idiot who was president during the Nickelback years.

Politics aside, would NMH's second album be so thoughtfully eulogized in a 33.3 book (one of the best selling ones at that!)and popular indie culture if Mangum had issued a series of increasingly less special records (which, in a way, he did, under his own name with a pair of sound collage records) instead of falling off the face of the planet? I'm not too sure they would. Putting something as odd and unique as this out into the world and then withdrawing from view was a very brilliant move! Can anyone muster up any love for fellow Elephant 6 guys Elf Power? How about the long forgotten but totally more incredible Olivia Tremor Control? No. So, what the hell man, I really don't get it. That may be my problem, but I'm a pretty knowledgeable guy when it comes to bands like this. I'm not some stupid with an REO Speedwagon collection wondering what planet this music is from, I simply desire an answer to the question I asked above: why would somebody take such a musically great album and sing so horribly for it? Would he have reacted so strongly against the resulting interest in his music if he had sung it all tastefully in key?
the lunatic is: on avery island
happy sad?: irateirate
what is that?: neutral milk hotel
Endless Pajama Lark: matsscratchtasia on March 11th, 2009 02:55 pm (UTC)
Wow. I have no answers for you. All I can say is that I had this record while it was current, really did not like it (mostly because of the vocals), and sold it off. Its legend has only grown since then, to my confusion. It's so rare to encounter someone whose sentiments about this reflect my own! (I've never heard the debut, and I liked Olivia Tremor Control better, not to mention the Apples In Stereo.)