Neutral Milk Hotel’s opus turns ten this Sunday. Feel old? If you love it, it’s one of those albums that imprints itself on your psyche. One of us remembers exactly where he was when he brought it home from the record store the week it came out, sat down and listened to it next to a piano in a girlfriend’s father’s house … and those first rushed, hushed lines of “King Of Carrot Flowers Part 1″ were enough to choke a person up, even when they barely knew what was going on, hadn’t gotten the Anne Frank thematics. Right then, it was just this quick, gorgeous snapshot of innocence lost in a surrealist, sad atmosphere: “And your mom would stick a fork right into daddy’s shoulder / And your dad would throw the garbage all across the floor / As we would lay and learn what each other’s bodies were for…” And it went from there.
People have asked us why we didn’t follow OKX or Drive XV with a Neutral Milk Hotel covers tribute. Well, for starters, the eleven songs are so intimately interwoven, falling and resting upon each other through organ sustain and held notes and ghosts, that to have different acts tackle them would prove disappointing, no matter who we got to play Mangum’s part (voices singing through him, notes bending beyond reach, a tongue in his teeth). Plus, even though this album is about Anne Frank — or, better put, Mangum’s reaction and relationship to The Diary Of A Young Girl and the life behind it — the emotional resonances feel so intimately connected to their presentation. A cover couldn’t nail that. You need to live on a diet of tomatoes and radio wires to get it. Or fall in love with someone who was buried alive in 1945. His “God is a place where some holy spectacle lies / And when we break / We’ll wait for our miracle, / God is a place you will wait for the rest of your life” strikes us as formative in indie-rock God references. We’re only partly kidding.
Why does it continue to be so influential? Beyond the lyrics, there’s the use of singing saws, horn arrangements (holy, Beirut), accordion, banjo, etc. There’s a reason the official NMH site links to Harry Partch. Of course, In The Aeroplane was influential for folks beyond Zach Condon — the ragtag sense of composition, the patchwork jug-band. Right, what came to be known as “the Elephant 6 sound.” But unlike most E6 participants, NMH injected a real emotion into the interesting backwoods psychedelic compositional sense. Actually, of Montreal has gotten closer with more recent albums (tracing trips to Norway and a relationship’s ups and downs), but it’s hard to get past all the glitter sometimes. What else? Let us count the ways…
Colbert likes it. There’s a story post over at Lindsayism about one of her friends (Stephanie) singing along to “Holland, 1945″ during a break in filming between segments, Colbert seeing her, and the two of them continuing to intone it together. We’re serious; apparently Stephen even knows the Anne Frank backdrop. Read about it here. Oh, it looks like this woman likes it, too.
Mangum hasn’t entirely stopped making music. He’s had those tape loop projects and Major Organ and the Adding Machine, and sometimes he shows up and sings at his friend’s live sets, etc. Sadly, every move he makes at this point gets a headline. Even if it wasn’t him. Though a headline’s deserved when he dresses up like a lobster.
Yes, he’s married. His wife, the filmmaker and writer Astra Taylor, did a documentary about Slavoj ?i?ek. How cool is that? But no need to pry further. One of us met Mangum by mistake during a reading of Dylan Thomas’s Under Milk Wood in a friend’s apartment in Brooklyn a couple years ago, but pretended not to know who he was as we sipped the play-specific parsnip gin and nibbled the parchment-paper fish. Why? Well, because the album means so much to so many of us, and you want to respect the silence of the man behind it. The last line of “Two-Headed Boy Part 2,” the final song on the album, is “Just don’t hate her when she gets up to leave.” After that, you hear Mangum put down his guitar, get up, and, well, literally leave. Seems like maybe he knew it was his final NMH moment even then. With that in mind, why not watch some videos of the man before he left?
“King Of Carrot Flowers Part 2″
“In The Aeroplane Over The Sea”
“Two-Headed Boy” and then “Gardenhead,” etc.
An early “Two-Headed Boy Part 2″