New Thing #126: Neutral Milk Hotel

Neutral_Milk_HotelLast Monday or Tuesday my Twitter feed was filled with excited news about Neutral Milk Hotel. My New Thing antennae were raised - might this be new music I should check out?

The big news? They were touring!

It seemed to me like an overreaction.

Unless, I thought to myself, it was a group that hadn't toured in a long time.

Then a little alarm went off in the back of my head because a memory was sparked and I knew that Neutral Milk Hotel was going to be my next Music Monday experience.

When I was in Quebec I was talking with a friend of mine about podcasts. I think it was podcasts. Or passions. Things we were obsessed with. Or quirks. Like the fact that I had to listen to all the episodes of a podcast before starting to listen to a new podcast. Or obsessions about quirks and passions. I think I was doing most of the talking.

Anyway, she said that she didn't think she had anything which she was as passionate about. Then she stopped and thought and said that there were certain bands that she was obsessed with and if given the opportunity she would follow them around from performance to performance.

She asked if I had ever heard of the Elephant 6 collective. I had not. She mentioned a number of bands and singers, and started telling me about this guy she had run into in a Brooklyn bar and how he was a somewhat reclusive singer for one of the bands in the collective and if he ever got that band together again to tour it would be the best thing ever.

I thought that qualified as pretty passionate.

Turns out, after I heard the news about Neutral Milk Hotel I vaguely remembered that this was the band that she was talking about and Jeff Mangum, the lead singer, was the guy in the bar, and all the pieces fell into place. It was just so weird that she brought that up and then less than two weeks later that exact thing happened.

(It's also weird to see the words Neutral and Milk and Hotel together. I wonder if the band just thought of three words that have absolutely no relationship with one another and picked those three words for its name. Because I have trouble getting past the fact that it makes no sense to me.)

I asked her to borrow the album "In The Aeroplane Over The Sea", and she told me I should probably listen to it 6 or so times before making any judgments. For some reason this comment coupled with what I remember her telling me in Quebec made me think it was really heavy (like heavy metal) music that I wouldn't like. But I was willing to give it a shot.

Then I texted my brother. I asked him if he was familiar with the band. He said he was - a friend had told him about them in college. I asked if he liked them. I'll show you the conversation from that point forward - he's gray, I'm blue:


He closed by telling me he'd save specific thoughts for after I'd heard the album.

The fact that he thought it was a masterpiece made me start thinking I would like it - because, and I don't think he'd disagree - my brother's music tastes in college were somewhat unrefined. If this was something way outside the box, he'd probably have hated it at that time. So I was encouraged.

I have to tell you - it did not take me 6 listens to like the album. It opens with some guitar strums that I immediately liked. And my initial thoughts about what kind of music it was were wrong - I don't know if I can describe what it's like, but it's good.

I think that first song is my favorite - it's called 'The King of Carrot Flowers Part One". I also liked the title track.

I'm not sure I listened all that closely to the lyrics - as I listened I kept waiting for something to hit me that I wouldn't like, because of the cautious way it was set up that I may not like what I heard.

But I liked it.

I won't be following this much-awaited tour around the world...but I like the music.

(One note: I'm not sure if my brother even realizes this, but I wouldn't be surprised if in a subconscious...or maybe conscious, I've just never spoken about this with him...way Neutral Milk Hotel influenced his music. There's a similarity not in singing style, but in guitar style. Especially the opening to the song "In The Aeroplane Over The Sea" and his "Brake Lights". Just pointing out the similarity.)