Archive for the ‘Neutral Milk Hotel’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: PHISH-“In the Aeroplane Over the Sea” (2010).

My friend Jay sent me this clip of Phish covering Neutral Milk Hotel’s wonderful song.  He was at the show and sent me a link  to the YouTube video.

The original of this song is wonderful–always sounding like it’s going to collapse in on itself but never actually doing so.  It is full of angst and emotion and after the first listen, where you say, “is he really going to sing the whole thing like this?” you are totally hooked.

The Phish version evens a lot of that angst out.  It’s a strange thing to say about Phish, but they make this song far more commercial.  They turn it into a pretty ballad.  And that’s kind of a shame since the original is so iconic.

In Phish’s defense, this is part of one of their sets (they unveiled a new cover on every day of the tour), and it’s not like they are trying to record a definitive version of it or anything.  So they make it into a Phish song–with a long solo and everything.  And the solo sounds like a total Trey solo.  I’m not sure what songs surrounded this one, but it sounds like it fit perfectly into their set.

As the folks at Stereogum say, “If you’ve always felt “Aeroplane” needed more guitar solo, this is your lucky day.”  For me what it did was make me want to listen to the original–and that’s never a bad thing.

[READ: June 5, 2012] “Quests”

This essay opens up with a history lesson.  In the early nineties, Pizza Hut sponsored the Book It! program to promote reading.  For every ten books you read you got a free pizza.  Well, it turns out that they either still do this or they do it in a modified form because my son has been getting these free pizza coupons all year.  Of course, we live in New Jersey, where the pizza is plentiful and delicious (there are at least 4 excellent pizza places within ten minutes of our house).  And you’d be a fool to eat Pizza Hut, even if it is free.  My son is pretty bummed about this, because of course he wants to redeem his prize.  And I suppose one day we’ll let him do it, but it would painful.  I actually don’t even know where a Pizza Hut is by us.

But that’s got nothing to do with Russell’s essay.  She realizes the truism that there is no greater pleasure than reading for pizza.  Because it’s not just reading for escape and fantasy, now you’re a breadwinner. Literally.  Russell’s genre of choice was fantasy (Terry Brooks in particular–I love that she realizes later in life that he took his ideas from Dresden and Hiroshima and how it blew her mind). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE APPLES IN STEREO-King of Carrot Flowers, Pt. 3 from Score! 20 Years of Merge Records: The Covers (2009).

The Apples in Stereo have made the first song on this covers disc in which I categorically like the original better.  I don’t know that much about the Apples in Stereo, although I know they are tangentially related to Neutral Milk Hotel.  But I don’t know if their style is in general like this version–keyboardy and simplistic, or if this is a goof project for them.

Of course, the original of this song, by Neutral Milk Hotel is an indie classic, so you’d be hard pressed to try to do a respectful version and make it sound better.  It’s nice they did something different, I just don’t like it as much.

[READ: April 6, 2012] “The Porn Critic”

This is a story that is superficially facile–it confirms the age-old belief that women just do not like porn.  And yet there’s some interesting dynamics at work that I found really enjoyable.

The story is about Kromer.  Kromer was believed to be a hedonistic satyr–that a life of partying, drugs and sex followed him wherever he went.  But that was not exactly true–he was around a lot of it, just never in the middle of it.  The debauchery in his life was all thanks to his friend Greta.

Greta has a trust fund that will not mature until she reaches 30.  She was so outraged at not having the trust fund that (and I love this phrasing) it “drove her mad with the determination to die squalorously before she became wealthy.”  Despite her lack of access to the fund, she did have at her disposal  her father’s “man.”  He would cater to her every whim at any hour of the day.

And so she lived the hedonistic lifestyle–drugs and drinking, closing out parties and hanging with wild transsexuals (and calling for deliveries from delis across town to the bar she was currently in).  And she also hung out with Kromer–who was terrified of her debauched friends, but loved the access to her father’s servant.

Kromer’s reputation was also helped because he worked in a porn shop called Sex Machines.  He worked for a local real estate maven who owned all kinds of stores–from coffee to video to adult marital aids.  I love the details of Sex Machines, and that its “interior and stock had been painstakingly derived from that of a famous San Francisco shop, founded by a sex-positive lesbian collective. In lieu of such a collective, the owner had installed Kromer,”  So instead of Toys in Babeland Manhattan got Sex Machine.

Sex Machine also published a newsletter which included reviews of the latest porn movies.  And Kromer was the sole reviewer–he watches dozens of films (the output is tremendous!) and tried to simplify their content for the clientele.

As a result, he had tons of porn movies lying around his house.  And as a result of that, very few people, women especially, had visited his apartment. (more…)

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shinySOUNDTRACK: NEUTRAL MILK HOTEL-In the Aeroplane Over the Sea (1998).

neutralI had always put off getting into Neutral Milk Hotel.  They were just another one of those Elephant 6 bands, and there were so many bands and splinter-bands and solo bands that I had to draw the line somewhere.  And Neutral Milk Hotel were on the other side of it.  I hadn’t even heard them, I just decided I couldn’t listen to them.

About four months ago, I heard a piece on NPR about a high school putting on a musical based on this album.  They played bits and pieces of the disc and I was totally blown away.  The play is somehow connected to the Anne Frank story (as the album apparently is, too, although I haven’t been able to figure that out from the lyrics at all).

It also turns out that my friend Jarrett had put “Two-Headed Boy” on a sampler disc for me, so I already DID know some of the disc.

Make no mistake, this is an unusual disc: from the bizarre cover, to the bizarre song titles (“The King of Carrot Flowers”).  And, most notably, to the instrumentation.  Sure it starts out simply enough with some acoustic guitars, but it eventually adds everything from flugelhorn (a recent safe word on How I Met Your Mother)to euphonium to zanzithophone(!) to what I thought was a theremin, but which turns out to be a singing saw (even cooler!).

“The King of Carrot Flowers Pts 2 – 3” begins with the very earnest “I love you, Jesus Christ.”  It eventually morphs into the rollicking Pt 3, with the repeated effort of “I would [x] until I learn to [x]”  It’s frankly an amazing trilogy to open the disc.

The title track and “Two-Headed Boy” continue this fascinating orchestral folk with incredible catchiness and what can only be described as supremely earnest singing.  At times, the singing almost makes one uncomfortable for how naked it sounds.

“The Fool” allows for some interesting marching band type instrumentation, but it is followed by even more earnest singing in “Holland, 1945” a ramshackle song that feels like it is trying to race itself to the end.   And then there’s “Oh Comely” a simple guitar ballad that grows and shrinks for 8 minutes of raw, lyric bending.  Eventually it adds some horns as Magnum sings “we know who our enemies arrrrrrrrrre.”

The whole disc has a sound of being recorded too close to the microphone…with many many sounds crackling into distortion.  And while it does have a feeling of cheapness, it really has more of a feeling of urgency…they couldn’t wait to get these songs out, and damn the recording levels (the guitars on “Ghost” are almost outrageously too loud, even though they are not louder than anything else in the song).

The disc ends with the fun, keyboard and uilleann pipe fueled “The Penny Arcade in Calirfornia” a wonderful instrumental that reprises some of the musical lines from other songs.  And then comes “Two Headed Boy, Pt 2” which doesn’t really reprise the original song. Rather, it is a multi-versed song in which Magnum barely pauses for breath trying to get the lengthy verses (with no evident chorus) out.  It ends with an actual reprise of “Two Headed Boy” and fades out.

It’s a fantastic disc.  Simply fantastic.

Neutral Milk Hotel has basically been on hiatus since this record, so it’s not hard to catch up with their output (2 full lengths and an EP).  It’s just a shame if you waited as long as I did to do it.

[READ: September 18, 2009] “Hail the Returning Dragon, Clothed in New Fire”

When Infinite Jest came out there was a lot of discussion of its being “ironic.”  But generally, it is well established at this point (just look at virtually any post on Infinite Summer) about how un-ironic the book is.  In fact, it rather eschews irony.  (I’m not going to detail why, I promise).

This essay, if nothing else, should hammer home the idea that DFW had very little tolerance for irony (even despite the nature of this book, the magazine it comes from, and some of the other ironic pieces in it). (more…)

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nySOUNDTRACK: Living with Music: A  Playlist by Joshua Ferris (New York Times September 19 2007).

ferrisWhile searching for Joshua Ferris (see below) I came across this playlist from The New York Times.  While I don’t agree with everything on the list, indeed, I haven’t heard of about half of the songs, I was delighted by several of his selections: Neutral Milk Hotel, Pearl Jam, and of course, Godspeed! You Black Emperor.  I also really enjoy the unusual Pink Floyd selection, too (Meddle being a favorite album of mine).

What I enjoy most about the list is that he tacks on a book that you might read that somehow ties to the song (I don’t know what the specifics are as I have yet to read any other “Living with Music” Playlists).  But it reminds me of an inverse of this very blog.

The article is available here.

[READ: August 3, 2009] “The Valetudinarian”

I knew the name Joshua Ferris sounded familiar, but couldn’t remember exactly why. Then I remembered that he wrote Then We Came to the End which I liked quite a bit. So I looked him up and found out that in addition to that novel, he’s only had a few short stories published in total. And now I’ve read two out of the seven. In terms of ratio of books read, that practically makes him my favorite author!

I should have looked up the definition of the title of this one: valetudinarian
which basically means invalid. (more…)

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pride-zombiesSOUNDTRACK: The Core: WVPH, 90.3 FM.

coreThe Core is also from Rutgers University.  How do they have two radio stations?  Interestingly, the station is shared with Piscataway High School.  For several hours a day Piscataway High School takes over the airwaves.  Although I admit that I have not listened to any of the PHS stuff because the first block is at 6 in the morning, and the other block is from 1- 3PM.

The college folks, however, play a pretty excellent selection of alternative music.  They’re not quite as indie and out there as WRSU, but they’re not commercial either.  To me, they’re more of the kind of college station I’m used to from my days as music director at the University of Scranton.

In the few days that I listened, I heard a lot of familiar alternative artists, with a nice focus on new bands.  What I especially liked about the station was that they didn’t play too much in the way of commercial alternative (your U2s and R.E.Ms who were once alternative but are now mainstream).  Rather, they played bands like Art Brut, The Decemberists, Portishead and Neutral Milk Hotel: bands that many people have at least heard of, but that you won’t find anywhere else on the dial.

This is the station that I would turn to most if my CD player busted permanently.

The only thing I didn’t like about it, but which also reminded me of my days as a DJ, was that college DJs tend to talk A LOT.  We all think that we are imparting precious wisdom to the masses.  And often, that is true.  Although in this one case, the DJ said that the name of the band was Art Brut Vs Satan, which is in fact just the album name.  (See, I’m still a pretentious music snob!).   However, when I’m having dinner and reading a book, I don’t need a seven minute update about that last concert that you went to.

[READ: May 19, 2009] Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

When I first heard about this book (as a punchline on Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me at my brother-in-law Tim’s house), I couldn’t believe it was real.  I was so intrigued by the concept, and then so impressed by the reviews, that I couldn’t wait to read it.

And this book does not disappoint.

For those out of the loop: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is, as the title suggests, Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice with good old zombie action thrown in.  Elizabeth and Darcy… What?

Yes.  Zombies.

Seth Grahame-Smith has taken Pride and Prejudice, changed a few details and then added an entire…well, subplot is not right…more like an underlying condition to the story.  It turns it from a story of love and marriage into a story of love and marriage amidst zombie brain-lust. (more…)

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