Neutral Milk Hotel

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On Avery Island , 6.5/10
In the Aeroplane Over The Sea , 7.5/10
Music Tapes: First Imaginary Symphony For Nomad (1999) , 7/10
Major Organ and the Adding Machine (2001), 6/10
Music Tapes: Music Tapes for Clouds & Tornadoes (2008), 6/10
A Hawk And A Hacksaw: A Hawk And A Hacksaw (2004), 5/10
A Hawk And A Hacksaw: Darkness At Noon (2005), 6/10
A Hawk And A Hacksaw: The Way The Wind Blows (2006), 5/10
A Hawk And A Hacksaw: Deliverance (2009), 5/10
A Hawk And A Hacksaw: Cervantine (2011) , 6/10
A Hawk And A Hacksaw: You Have Already Gone To The Other World (2013), 5/10

(Clicka qua per la versione Italiana)

During the 1990s a genius of pop music came out of the musically depressed lands of Louisiana: no, not Britney Spears, but Jeff Mangum, the man behind Neutral Milk Hotel, soon destined to become one of the leaders of the pop renaissance with Apples In Stereo and Olivia Tremor Control. Neutral Milk Hotel debuted with three cassettes, Invent Yourself A Shortcake (Elephant 6, 1991), Beauty (Elephant 6, 1992), Hype City Soundtrack (Elephant 6, 1993) and the legendary single Everything Is (Cher Doll, 1994), a catchy refrain set to a simple rhythm. The fuzzy guitar made people think of a disciple of Jesus And Mary Chain, a perception that the hazy sound on the album On Avery Island (Merge, 1996) did little to change. Despite the memorable hooks of Song Against Sex and Naomi, despite the quirky arrangements a` la Brian Wilson and Van Dyke Parks (trombone, xylophone, organ), halfway between the Salvation Army and classical music, the standout tracks are the feedback-heavy instrumental Marching Theme and the dadaistic/psychedelic tour de force of Pree-Sisters Swallowing A Donkey's Eye.

Better production (and a real band) on In the Aeroplane Over The Sea (Merge, 1998) radically changed the perception without radically changing the melodic content and presented Mangum as a modern Tom Rapp covering Buddy Holly (but also Frank Zappa's Freak Out). The King Of Carrot Flowers and Two Headed Boy are heavenly lullabies.

Neutral Milk Hotel's multi-instrumentalist Julian Koster released the single Please Hear Mr Flight Control (Elephant 6, 1998) and the album First Imaginary Symphony For Nomad (Merge, 1999) under the moniker Music Tapes, an album which is a sort of gigantic, mad collage in the vein of the Fugs' Virgin Forest with notable parts for singing saw and bowed banjo.

Jeff Mangum of Neutral Milk Hotel and Julian Koster ofthe Music Tapes assembled a supergroup of mermbers of Olivia Tremor Control, Elf Power, and Of Montreal to record Major Organ and the Adding Machine (2001).

After Second Imaginary Symphony For Cloudmaking (2002), basically a soundtrack to accompany a spoken-word narrative, Koster delivered another cartoonish survey of a whole musical century, Music Tapes for Clouds & Tornadoes (Merge, 2008), a work that now turned sound quality into a co-protagonist by recording all the songs on vintage equipment of yore. The overture, Saw Pingpong and Orchestra, is a drunken singalong that sounds like an orchestral version of the Holy Modal Rounders. No less demented is Tornado Longing For Freedom, a banjo-driven lament that sounds like an insult to yodeling country singers. A bit more sober are Majesty and especially The Minister Of Longitude, the sort of street fanfares with catchy refrains that Koster excels at. The accordion-derailed litany Freeing Song By Reindeer and the pretentious aria Cumulonimbus (Magnetic Tape For Clouds) with banjo and cello sound like parodies of moronic Beatles songs. Somehow Koster decides to devote six full minutes (an eternity by his standards) to the Hawaian-tinged requiem Song For Oceans Falling, replete with trumpet and theremin adagio. Koster does not invest enough time into the arrangements although the jovial instrumentals Nimbus Stratus Cirrus (Mr. Piano's Majestic Haircut) and In An Ice Palace display a rare genius.

Neutral Milk Hotel's drummer Jeremy Barnes formed Bablicon.

Live At Jittery Joes (2001 - Orange Twin, 2005) was a Jeff Mangum solo acoustic live set.

A Hawk And A Hacksaw is the solo project of Neutral Milk Hotel's drummer Jeremy Barnes, originally from New Mexico and now resident in Britain. A Hawk And A Hacksaw (2004) and Darkness At Noon (Leaf, 2005), with the eight-minute Laughter In The Dark, are devoted to ethnic folk with the kind of drunk attitude that Tom Waits could concoct. After relocating back to New Mexico, Barnes recorded The Way The Wind Blows (Leaf, 2006), that featured klezmer violinist Heather Trost, a collection that continued the pan-ethnic program with merely a more profound tone. The chamber instrumental The Way The Wind Blows pivots on a touching violin and accordion melody. Fernando's Giampari is an exuberant post-modernist fantasia on klezmer and assorted folk dance music. Other pieces are more directly related to this or that folk tradition. Notably, the six-minute In The River for horns, organ, violin and accordion sounds like a Slavic funeral march. The musicianship even increased and the tempos were even more frantic on Deliverance (Leaf, 2009), for example in Kertesz.

The Music Tapes' member Julian Koster played Christmas carols on a saw: The Singing Saw at Christmastime (Merge, 2008).

Jeremy Barnes and Heather Trost further expanded the scope and sophistication of their pan-ethnic research on A Hawk And A Hacksaw's Cervantine (LM Duplication, 2011) performed by an eight-piece ensemble whose arsenal of instruments (accordion, cymbal, violin, viola, bouzouki, trumpet, flugelhorn, tuba, euphonium, dumbek, riq, guitar, cello, dobro, clarinet, saxophone and percussion) laid the foundations for an even wilder cauldron of world-music, notably the rousing eight-minute No Rest for the Wicked. A stronger Mexican influence now complemented their passion for the Balkans. You Have Already Gone To The Other World (2013) was conceived as the soundtrack for Sergei Parajanov's film "Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors" (1964).

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