Not Neutral about Neutral Milk Hotel

“On Avery Island” – by Neutral Milk Hotel


I actually picked up this CD by mistake, trying to find something suggested by a work colleague who liked Milky Chance.  The name sounded vaguely familiar, so I happily purchased their 1996 debut “On Avery Island”.  Immediately upon listening, the sounds of NMH took me back, WAYYY back to the late 90s.  I was reminded of house bands in basements, and shows in art galleries, coffee shops, and bars.  I am not surprised that Google Play simply described NMH as “An American Indie Rock Band” because that is exactly what it is (or was).

After enjoying the opening track, I immediately went into Jaded-Older-Person mode, becoming a little skeptical of the raw sound, random noise effects and what could be serious and/or pretentious lyrics.  I have recently been conditioned to crave contemporary radio pop – I needed to slowly adjust to more challenging music again!  In my attempt to appreciate each NMH song in just one week, I decided to completely ignore the lyrics.  There was just too much going on, and since each song seemed intentionally infused with meaning, I didn’t want to pretend to understand this all without adequate time to digest it.

My favorite song is the opening track, “Song Against Sex”.  Of course I have no idea what the lyrics mean, but this is fast, fun, and includes Weezer-esque vocals punctuated by timely trumpet interludes.  It makes you feel like a teenager again, and would be so much fun to hear live!  I also really like “Gardenhead/Leave Me Alone” – I put both of these tracks on the Spotify playlist so you can check them out.  The horn section (I guess I should say brass) is again well-featured here, and I hate to keep saying that the vocals remind me of Weezer, but they really do.  In a good way!

On the other hand, “Someone is Waiting” starts to lose me a little bit.  The tempo is slower, and the vocals are wailing and unfocused.  There are some fun sound effects here though, something like applause or the sound of frying eggs.  And I can’t decide if I like the final track, since I can’t adequately describe what is happening here.   “Pree-Sisters Swallowing a Donkey’s Eye” is extremely long, so I’m not even sure I’ve heard the entire thing all at once yet.  It seems like NMH enjoyed finishing up this album with a bang (or drawn-out, distortion-infused, end-of-the-concert jam).

I heard somewhere that NMH includes members who later created the group Apples In Stereo (AIS).  I find this interesting because what I remember of AIS is a shiny highly-produced sound with upbeat melodies and almost friendly vocals – a real contrast to this NMH album.  I’m sure I’m missing something huge here (and I might not be able to articulate it anyhow in 300-500 words on a blog) but even this contrast is refreshing, as it demonstrates vast creative ability and a willingness to challenge what was typical at the time (à la Spice Girls and Hanson).  At various points, the album brought to mind comparisons to Nirvana, Belle and Sebastian, Pearl Jam, and early Modest Mouse – I have to say there is definitely a stripped-down and very genuine appeal to this CD so I’m giving it an A- rating and encouraging you to check it out.

Link to Track Previews on Google Play:

Link to Purchase Page on Amazon:

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