Jan 302014


This fun review of Neutral Milk Hotel’s recent Philadelphia show asked the following question, which kind of applies to me:

15. Are there people, like actual music fans, who still don’t know who Neutral Milk Hotel is?

OK, let me see if I can answer this. I’m an actual music fan.

I know who Neutral Milk Hotel is, I like a few of the bands from the ’90s that are creatively related to them, but the few times I’ve knowingly heard their music it has made no impression on me. It just sits there like room-temperature Apples in Stereo or Beulah or any number of bands from that scene, bands that give me at least a little spark.

What am I missing? Are they my modern-day version of Love’s Forever Changes? I guess not, because despite my lack of appreciation for that Love album, at least it gets a reaction out of me.

Was there a drug I had to take while listening to them? A girl I should have been dating? Do I need to listen to their legendary album with the olde-thyme spelling of “aeroplane” multiple times while being coached on its finer points by a trusted Townsperson who’s attuned to my quirks, like Geo or Oats

Is it mainly the fact that the band’s leader, Jeff Magnum, is one of those mysterious genius types who seemed to run from the spotlight following his breakthrough moment? Do I have that much of a problem with guys who seemingly take their ball and go home just while the game’s getting good? I can imagine that being a huge factor in my inability to hear this band for what it supposedly is.

However, I’m a bigger man today. Open-minded. Kinder. Wiser. Gentler. Please explain Neutral Milk Hotel, and I will carve out time to revisit their catalog while your passionate words of wisdom ring in my head.

Thank you.


  17 Responses to “Please Explain: Neutral Milk Hotel”

  1. misterioso

    16. Are there people, like actual music fans, who know who Neutral Milk Hotel is but really, truly don’t give a shit?

    [Misterioso raises hand, at first tentatively, then with greater confidence, secure in the fact that in 2014 there is no need to care about bands he wasn’t remotely interested in in the ’90s. This is a lot for a single gesture to convey, but it’s all in there, trust me.]

  2. machinery

    Our young, newly hired designer went to see them last night at the Tower. According to him they were “really, really good … awesome show.” And get this: he said they used different size saws for stuff. Yup, saws.

    I just checked our Sonos queue and realize he has three of their albums on there. I will listen next week and report back!

  3. machinery

    And as a bonus: I’ll check out Olivia Tremor Control, too.

  4. Saws? Is that like the ’90s version of the ’70s Genesis light show that HAD TO BE SEEN TO BE BELIEVED?

  5. That’s another band from that scene that failed to register for me, although I forget why. I love Beulah. They are my favorite band from the late-’90s/early 2000s. Apples in Stereo and The Minders did some great stuff. Elf Power was pretty cool…

  6. 2000 Man

    Is that Aeroplane album the one where the guy has a face like a potato cut in half? I’ve heard it’s a classic album and that I’m mostly uncool because I’ve never heard it (so far as I know). Maybe someday, but I don’t like that cover.

  7. Suburban kid

    I have no explanation. I’m not a music fan I guess, because I don’t search out and investigate new music (unless it’s very old but still new to me). That doesn’t mean I don’t like anything of recent vintage, I just don’t seek it out and haven’t for years.

    One of my kids used to play a song from the Aeroplane album on the car stereo. It’s called “Holland, 1945” and I always thought it was quite catchy. I enjoy that song and even downloaded it from iTunes. But I have never even heard anything else by them, I don’t think.

  8. I really like the cover, first off.

    I like Neutral Milk Hotel. I’m not a huge fan, but In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, while it’s not an album that’s as good as people say it is, is a consistent set of good songs. “Holland, 1945”, “Two-Headed Boy”, the title track, are all really good, especially the first two. I think the songwriting is really quite good. But I can see how the lo-fi thing and Mangum’s voice could be irritating.

  9. ladymisskirroyale

    I’ve heard that they are just so amazing, but I’ll admit, the name puts me off. It’s like back in the day, if you didn’t like the album cover, the band wasn’t worth a listen.

    I have one friend whose taste in music I generally admire who loves this band and this album. But there is enough new music to listen to, let alone the old music I already know and love, that I doubt I have the energy to check them out. However, if I happened to hear a song somewhere, or someone gave me free tickets to see the show and it wasn’t on a school night, I would listen. You get my drift.

  10. ladymisskirroyale

    Misterioso, whereas I can’t claim your level of confidence you, I think we reach (tentatively).

  11. ladymisskirroyale

    Sorry, calling the grammar police on myself.

  12. I agree with most of MrHuman’s post. I would add that I like the first two songs a lot too.

    Yes the singing can get a bit grating at times (or maybe it just takes a bit of getting used to), and I don’t see this as the colossal landmark album that it is for some folks. But I’m guessing that those people are about 15 to 20 years younger than me so why shouldn’t they be allowed to have their big generational touchstone album? I knew their name for years but never actually heard the album until a few years ago when I opened for Neutral Uke Hotel (two guys with ukes playing the entire album). It was a packed house and the entire crowd sang along with every song. It was eye opening and cool to see people that psyched about an album.

    Anyway, once you make your peace with the singing style, it’s pretty cool. And the singing saw is always a welcome addition.

  13. I think Neutral Milk Hotel were much further out than Apples In Stereo. While I can imagine someone not liking them, hating them even, they really are pretty distinctive. I’ve never held one of their records in my hands, but I’d certainly be able to pick out the singer and the arrangements out of a line-up.

    I saw the Apples in Stereo once, and they were pretty dull. I eventually decided that although they had one song that seemed pretty good, interesting and promising, everything else I heard from them sounded like a less compelling version of that song.

    On the other hand, when I hear Neutral Milk Hotel and see they were coming around recently, I have considered checking them out. But I haven’t yet.

  14. Folks, Aeroplane is one of the major albums of the past 20 years and it’s less than 40 minutes long — listen to the damn thing already!

    I saw NMH in the ’90s and have seen Mangum solo three times in recent years. Each solo show was a near-religious experience, even for this decidedly secular soul. Looking forward to seeing the band twice next week in Chicago.

  15. 2000 Man

    I’m with you. I’ve got more than enough to do trying to keep up with what I like, and buying albums by bands I don’t know because I like the cover. That’s served me so well over the years. I don’t see any reason to stop now.

  16. I’m not sold on NMH. I found Aeroplane at the public library and ripped it to my iPod and it only partially works for me. It starts well but wears thin. It seems too wobbly and idiosyncratic for mass acceptance. Plus, the sound quality is really annoying. At times the singer is yelling his words and the levels are distorting and it takes me out of the music. I guess I prefer the Mountain Goats for this bedroom-poet type of thing.

    Forever Changes is a good comparison except that I love that record which just gets better and odder the more I hear it. I am probably more attuned to the expansive 60’s vibe than the four walls surrounding NMH.

  17. I haven’t tracked down the NMH album yet, but I bought Olivia Tremor Control’s first, I believe, Cubist Dusk at Dawn, or something like that. I’m digging it!

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