Neutral Milk Hotel
This album came out around the summer of 1998, but I felt guilty about not reviewing it, so I'm finally putting up a review on in hopes that at least one other person goes out and picks up this disc and gets as much enjoyment out of it as I have. Like many independent releases, it came out without much fanfare, but was embraced heartily by many and still finds major rotation in many (including mine) CD players around the nation.
Explaining the sound of Neutral Milk Hotel is a little bit on the tricky side unless you've heard them, but try to imagine things based on my simplified explanation. While the group has a definite indie sensibility to their songwriting, they go beyond the typical sounds by several steps by constantly changing up song-structures and even instrumentation. Sure, they play the acoustic guitar and even add some nice horns and organs once in awhile, but songs are also spiced-up quite a bit with a bunch of more experimental sounds like shortwave radio noise, flugelhorn, zanzithophone, and even uilleann pipes. They're like the indie-rock group that not only uses a ton of instruments to create different sounds, but does it well.
The album starts off with very simple acoustic strummings and vocals by main-player Jeff Mangum on, "The King Of Carrot Flowers Pt. One." Eventually, an accordian is added to nice effect as accompanyment and the track is over before you really know it. A slight bit of noise carries over from the first track into banjo sounds and more pronounced vocals before a wail of feedback swirls, some drums start to break, and the track breaks into the full-on noise-rock jam of "The King Of Carrot Flowers Pt. Two and Three." The third song on the disc (and title-track) qualifies as probably the most catchy track on the release. Once again, it starts out fairly simply with acoustic guitar, and some light drumming and vocals, but the difference in the track is made with the nice use of some trumpet and a wacky instrument called a "singing saw." If you're not sure what it is, just listed for the high, swirling noises that wind their way around and through the track and give it an eerie, yet playful sound.
Nearly every track on the disc is catchy as hell, whether it's the fuzzed-out rocker "Holland, 1945" or the mellow "Oh Comely." Even the untitled, instrumental tenth track manages quite a hook of a sound, despite its short length and seeming jam-style playing of goofy instruments. It's one of those albums that helps one keep their faith in indie-rock and its ability to keep churning-out very interesting, well-constructed music. If top-40 music is sucking the life out of you, this is one album that will breathe a little bit back in.