Everything Is [EP] (1994)
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Everything Is B
This track opens with a terrible recording of a kid who's apparently dressed up as a member of Kiss, and then goes on to identify himself as a “punk rocker.” Kid, kid, kid... Kiss has much to do with punk rock as ABBA does. But anyway, let's not dwell on that factual oversight. Let's talk about the song! It's FUZZY! They like that sloppy fuzzy guitar as much as I like jelly beans (I get a new cavity every time I visit the dentist). Those drums sound so tinny, and they're hardly able to peak up over those fuzzy guitars. The lead vocals are well mixed, anyway, and he comes up with a halfway decent vocal melody to sing! It's not such an inventive melody, but it's a nice one I say. It would have made a great song from the '60s.
Snow Song, Part 1 B+
Weird, slow and dreary. Mangum brings out more of that ultra-fuzzy guitar, accompanying a very slow vocal melody. He really would have made a good psychedelic guru in the '60s for all the pure freaky weirdness that he's able to project in such a straightforward song. This song probably sucks, but I get the distinct impression that it's greater than the sum of its parts.
Aunt Emma Blowtorch C-
Dagumit, this is weird! I guess you could call this a psychedelic sound collage if you wanted to. It's strange, it's unpredictable, and it sucks! It trudges along at a snail's pace giving us unlistenable sound after unlistenable sound. I think if he really wanted to do something like this, there were better ways to go about it... For a start, he could get the flow going a little better! And why just settle with relying almost exclusively on sound effects? Why not intermingle a few melodic themes in here, too? This is just a lot of wanking, to be honest.
Tuesday Moon A-
Real proof that Mangum had some great songwriting chops lurking underneath. It'll come out as soon as he figured out how to refrain from all that silly experimentalism! The riff is complicated but catchy at the same time. That overpowering fuzzy guitar is still here and mixed very badly, but it stops playing sometimes and I can get a better sense of that awesome acoustic guitar I hear strumming away. The vocal melody is really good, too! MELODY!! I like how it fades out with a completely different song that arouses my curiosity. It could have been a good song of its own!
On Avery Island (1996)
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Song Against Sex A
Yeah, sex sucks! What do people see in it, anyway? Sex starts off with two people making creepy faces at each other, and then it ends with creepy little-people coming out of the female something like nine months later. (It's always the female for some reason.) And you'll soon discover that these creepy little people have a mind of their own, and they're eventually capable of doing everything that you're capable of doing. The worst thing of it all is you're forced to keep them in your household for at least couple of decades, and they'll probably hate your guts at the end............... What was I talking about? Oh, music. Neutral Milk Hotel music, to be specific. Good music! I did a lot of complaining about the mixing in that EP of theirs I reviewed. This also has the rough, fuzzy guitar quality of it, and I can barely hear the drums, but it overall has a nicer feel to it. I also feel like I can hear Mangum's vocals clearly for the first time. Um. He's not a very interesting singer. But I really like that extremely free-flowing melody, and this song in general is so friggin' energetic and upbeat that I'm drawn to it from the very beginning! He brings in some trumpets, too. They sound very rough, and they don't really belong here, but it was such a weird touch that I end up liking it almost as much as the vocal melody..
You've Passed A
Geez! It's like this Jeff Mangum fellow is trying to suck or something, but all he can manage is epic awesomeness. Those deep guitar chords are so freaking deep that my speakers don't seem to be able to properly register them. Those weird, sloppy guitars create quite a weird texture. The vocal melody is decent, but I prefer the melody that subdued keyboard sound is playing deeply in the background. This song sounds so rough and uncouth and yet it's weirdly sublime.
Someone is Waiting A+
This bleeds from the previous song... That sucks if you're listening to this in mp3 form, because there's an unexpected second of silence between the tracks. God, the guitar textures they create is freaking phenomenal. The guitars are rumbling all over the place, creating all sorts of weird, weird sounds. I don't know how to the freaking heck they did it, but there's some guitar (or something) that's so rumbly it sounds like running water. At the very end, a couple of guitars do a hoppy duet together, which is just about the creepiest thing I've ever heard. The nicest thing about this song is Mangum had the decency to come out with a good, folkish melody. Brilliant stuff!
A Baby For Pree A-
This straight acoustic folk song isn't even a minute and a half long. The only real problem with straight acoustic music is that we have to bear through Mangum's boringly toned singing voice. Hm. But he's singing this pretty passionately, isn't he? There's some spark in there, I'd wager. The best thing of them all is that melody is hooky and interesting.
Marching Theme B
More textures! But it all seems to be going way too far this time. The way it begins is pretty neat; that calculator synthesizer muddling around sounds like dial-up Internet gone mad. Those huge, super-fuzzy, elephant sliding guitars create a really weird effect. Somehow, he manages to work in a cute melody led by a single line of a high-pitched synthesizer. It's another neat idea, but this tends to grow tiring after awhile, especially once the guitar start playing what sounds like a heavy metal riff. And those ultra screechy guitar lines at the end hurt my poor widdle ear drums.
Where You'll Find Me Now B+
Now they're just not impressing me very much. This song is more straightforward-like with a regular drum beat, and the only guitar texture we get is a relatively standard ultra-fuzzy thing playing the same old thing all throughout the song. Still, I gotta say I like the general flow of the song, if you catch my drift. The drums are weirdly muted, and they keep the thing going at a galloping pace. He brings in an extremely distorted mechanical wind-up toy sound at the end, I guess, because he realized he spent the previous three and a half minutes not doing anything weird.
Avery Island / April 1st C
Well, this is proof that not every idea to come out of Jeff Mangum's head was a fountain of good ideas. This is an extremely simple two-minute, two-chord song. Dreary keyboard sounds play its droning chords while a bass guitar thumps around clumsily and lifelessly. A very depressing trumpet noodles around. This is just the sort of instrumental that makes me want to slit my wrists.
Gardenhead / Leave Me Alone B+
Have I mentioned yet that Neutral Milk Hotel suck? I mean, they start off this album creating some of the weirdest, low-fi guitar textures I've ever heard, but now it seems like they completely abandon that initial idea, and we're left with just a lot of fuzzy guitar and Mangum's depressed-boy singing voice. However, this guy's ability to keep his songs lively with a hoppy vocal melody keeps this one floating a couple inches off the ground. It gets bonus points for bringing in that Earthly trumpet playing a second catchy melody at the same time.
Three Peaches C
Only three peaches? Why limit yourselves? ...Speaking of the instrumentation, why is he just limiting himself to a droney blur? I'm absolutely shocked at how this album took such an amazingly boring turn. I had to listen to those opening tracks again to make sure that I wasn't accidentally high on ecstasy when I wrote those reviews. (I had taken an aspirin, earlier, and you never know which of those white pills are *actually* aspirin.) The worst thing about this song is we have to bear through another one of Mangum's unbearably average vocal performances. It sounds like he was running out of breath the whole time, which I guess is his way of expressing 'passion.' He sounded better “Baby For Pree,” because he wasn't trying quite as hard. (Although his voice sounds awful there, too.)
Oh look, they've returned to writing songs that I don't completely hate! In fact, I find this cheeky little pop song is the most pleasant and accessible thing on this album. Naturally, the instruments are still loose and sloppy as ever, but for a change they leave off the droning, murky tones. The free-flowing melody has its fair share of hooks in it, and I really adore that accordion noodling around all over the place.
April 8th B-
Dreary, dreary, dreary. Why did these indie-types ever think that putting all these gray and dreary moods to their songs were a particularly great idea? I mean, this song isn't bad for sure, but it's very slow, very lethargic, and we have to try to bear through another one if his ugly, “tortured” vocal performances.
Pree-Sisters Swallowing a Donkey's Eye D
Yikes. This is only slightly more tolerable than Velvet Underground's “Sister Ray,” and at least that song had Lou Reed on it screaming about sucking penises. This is an extremely repetitive 14-minute instrumental with nothing but intolerable, dreary tones on it. If a song like this is going to work they would have to lay off those long passages where everyone only plays the same loop over and over and over again. They were trying for something “hypnotic,” but only managed some sort of dreary nightmare that SUCKS. This thing wouldn't have been so bad if it weren't so gosh dang dreary. Couldn't they have bothered to create more intricate textures instead of these plain, abstract noises? I'm just sayin'... The final third of it is a little better, but that's just because it consists of quieter, rumbling noise instead of that unbearable stuff earlier. But again, it's not a very interesting thing to sit through. It doesn't incite my imagination to put myself in new environments, and it's certainly not aesthetically pleasant. Boo!
In the Aeroplane Over the Sea (1998)
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The Kings of Carrot Flowers, Pt. One A
What an utterly pleasant song! ...I mean, it's by no means joyous, but this is a folk song that's not filled to the brim with those gross fuzz guitar sounds, which infested their previous album. The overall mood of it is a bit gray, but I guess that's the point of the whole album, and Mangum despite his average voice gives an impassioned vocal performance. This also has a nicely constructed and catchy melody, and I like that he brought in an accordion and a woodwind by the end, which helps it pop out a bit more. It's only two minutes, but it leaves quite an impression.
The Kings of Carrot Flowers, Pts. Two and Three B+
This song starts out with a prolonged chord before a tinny guitar comes playing a few notes. Mangum's folksy vocals come in sounding like he's about to start singing a spiritual. But, just as soon as the song starts to pick up, the fuzzy guitar marks a return! Oh no! But it's actually used well here. Up until the final minute, it's used more as background texture than the central instrument, and it's interesting. I don't care a whole lot for the final minute, though. It definitely has a lot of energy... I just don't care for what they're playing all that much...
In the Aeroplane Over the Sea A
Just on the basis of its hooky melody, this song was going to be good. Mangum probably conceived this as another folk song to sing with his acoustic guitar. But because he wanted to put some extra instrumentation on it, he brought in a small horn section and these weird, wobbly noises quietly in the background. I like that he kept that distinctly normal or homely trombone leftover from On Avery Island. That's a distinctly low-fi touch, and it makes this song extra-charming.
Two-Headed Boy A+
Yikes. Once again, Mangum created a melody that's incredibly hooky and memorable. He's strumming that acoustic guitar in such a quick and violent manner and singing so passionately that I only wish actual folk artists would have dared doing something like this. I hate to recall those days in the past when I reviewed Joan Baez albums who sounded mostly like a zombie. This is much more interesting... Obviously... He slows down at the end for some reason, but that also turns out to be an interesting touch.
The Fool A-
And the previous track fades into this instrumental written by Scott Spillane. I don't know what this is. My best guess it was their attempts at doing a ragtimy funeral-march. It has a pretty involved though distinctly unpolished horn section while a dull and pounding rhythm section plays. I might not care a whole damn for this as a composition although it's just fine... I just like listening to this pop up right after the folk number that proceeded it. It's kinda cool!
Holland, 1945 A
The fuzz guitar is thrust in the background once again, providing a little bit of this song's distinctly driving rhythm. Hey, I like their ultra-fuzz guitar when they use it like this and not for every single song. The rhythm is hyperactive, and the vocal melody is fine. What I like most is that trombone duet, which continues to embrace its unkempt, low-fi ways. The singing continues to be loud and slightly obnoxious with that plain voice of his, but this is somehow charming in spite of that.
Communist Daughter B+
I'm honestly not getting much out of this experience. It seems to be a rather average folk-song played over a bunch of zippy sound effects. Of course, it's still a decently written song with a formidable melody, and ... the sound effects are certainly interesting! A horn comes in halfway through, which isn't a surprise! It's only two minutes long, so it's not one of the major pieces here, anyway...
Oh Comely B
Wow, an eight-minute folk song! The first six minutes, there's no accompaniment other than his acoustic guitar and that slightly annoying voice he uses to sing LOUDLY. That distinctly low-fi trumpet chimes in for the final two minutes. Maybe this is what separate this album's die-hard fanatics from us regular folks? I do actually think this is an altogether fine song... The fact alone that it's an eight-minute folk song that I don't get completely bored listening to is a feat by itself. The melody is complex and super-serious. Not *catchy* so to speak, but there's enough about it that keeps me engaged. By far the main problem I have with this is the voice, which starts to get grating after only a few minutes. I was able to take it better in previous songs, but singing loudly isn't automatically a good idea...
Bringing back the old fuzz guitars, and perhaps they're a little higher in the mix than my personal preference! But I suppose they're there to give us a funny new, alien sort of texture instead of intentionally trying to be annoying. It's sort of interesting, I guess. The melody continues to sound like an old folk song, and it's quite good for that sort of song. It picks up some energy by the end as the drum section picks up steam and the horn section pipes up again!
Well, this instrumental might not have a title, but it sure has a bagpipe... or at least a keyboard set to an instrument that sounds like a bagpipe. Give it extra points for that quirky, disjointed groove, although I would understand how it might sound too fruity for some listeners. I like it well enough for a two-minute track. The fuzz guitar is a prominent instrument again, but it's not so much driving me bonkers here.
Two-Headed Boy, Pt. 2 A
Until the very end, there's not much similarity between the original “Two-Headed Boy” other than this is another song where we get to hear Mangum sing loudly with his acoustic guitar. It starts out with some ominous, bending synthesizers before the acoustic guitar picks up and a fairly normal folk song commences. What makes this an A-scorer is, simply, the melody. It's a good melody! Helping it is the lack of that annoying fuzz-guitar, which would have killed me if I had to listen to another song loaded with that!
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