New Recording From Jeff Mangum Leaves Panties Wet Wednesday, Dec 9 2009 

Jeff Mangum

Who knew the first new material from Jeff Mangum in years would come in the form of a Chris Knox cover? Either way, here you have it. Mangum is one of several artists (including The Mountain Goats, Yo La Tengo, and several tasty others) featured on a new tribute album for the the indie-rocking, stroke-surviving, New Zealand-ing musician. Click this link to purchase the album and hear 30 second sound-clips from each song, and by “each song,” I mean scroll down and excitedly get ready to hear a recording of Jeff Mangum’s voice that doesn’t have over seventy plays in your iTunes library.

Even though it is only 30 seconds long, one can’t help but smile at hearing Mangum, our very own Papa Bear in many ways, nervously toss his voice along the lines of a melody again. Just as I noted when I first saw the YouTube videos of Mangum playing on the Elephant 6 Holiday Surprise tour last year, I find Mangum’s voice more beautiful than ever before, more tender. I’d be wasting my time if I started to go into details about how sure I am that Mangum’s full-scale return to the music world is imminent, as I’ve said it before. But I will say this much; that man’s voice has the ability to put a smile on my face like almost nothing else. What more could anyone ask for?

Update: I guess I now know what we could ask for. Friend of the blog, Rhetoric, has sent me a link to the full song. Check it out here.

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Comeback Forthcoming? – Neutral Milk Hotel Albums Re-Issued On Vinyl Friday, Sep 25 2009 

For my money, the greatest band of all time.

For my money, the greatest band of all time.

It’s no hidden secret that I’m a huge fan of Neutral Milk Hotel. Well, today as I was Googling them (as I do at least once every 45 minutes) I came across an article on Paste Magazine’s website concerning an upcoming vinyl re-issue of Neutral Milk Hotel’s two LP’s On Avery Island and the stunningly beautiful In the Aeroplane Over the Sea. Now, these two albums are not rare. Aeroplane has been steadily maintaining sales since 1998. So, why the re-issue? Well, if you’d allow me to get my hopes up, I’ll let you know what I think.

You see, this blog post is just one of many that is being posted on the subject. Pitchfork, AbsolutePunk, the aforemention Paste Magazine, and many other higher level music websites are also covering the story. It seems like a lot of hubbub for something that does not seem to be that big of a deal. Neutral Milk Hotel really doesn’t need the publicity at this point, right?

Wrong. Ladies and gentlemen, this could be it. Jeff Mangum, the leading force behind Neutral Milk Hotel, may finally be returning for a tour or an album. What better way to refresh the public’s memory of the band than by re-issuing both their albums? This is a premature assumption, yes, but I’m easily excitable and I run a music blog. It’s my job to speculate.

Here’s to hope.

Why We Need Jeff Mangum (Now, More Than Ever) Wednesday, Jul 22 2009 

A few months back, my best friend invited me to the UNC-Chapel Hill to check out the campuses radio station. He had recently become a DJ there and wanted me to see the station’s enviable collection of music and burn as many CD’s as I liked. Naturally, I jumped at the idea. Chapel Hill’s radio station is known for its high standards of indie rock and I practically salivated at the chance to hang out there for a day, enjoying a virtual all-you-can-eat buffet of amazing music. When the day finally arrived, I sat on a couch surrounded by walls covered in music, burning the CD’s from a large pile I had collected next to me. Half were bands I had heard of but had never bothered to get into and others, I had picked blindly. One of those others was In the Aeroplane Over the Sea by Neutral Milk Hotel.

Upon first listen, I was changed. We overdramatic music hipsters often speak of albums that have cahnged our lives so please, forgive me for the cliche. However, there is no other way to describe what happened. Lead singer and songwriter, Jeff Mangum, told me that when I was young, I was the King of Carrot Flowers and, by God, I believed him and still believe him today. From its first moments, Aeroplane creates a world for its listener to believe in all the things that we are meant to grow out of, to become something we long had convinced ourselves was impossible. From Two-Headed Boys to Ghosts, the atmosphere this album creates insists that its listener delve into the unimaginable.

The acclaim for Aeroplane has only grown since its release in 1998. There are very few people who have heard this record who can honestly say they do not love it. However, there is a small faction of dissenters who refuse to let this record into their lives. They see this album and its fans as part of  an elitist mentality. True, people like me probably don’t make the matter any better, as I think Aeroplane is perfect and do not hesitate to tell anyone who will listen. Still, no matter how much we fans praise this album, the dissenters will not budge; to them, Aeroplane is just another OK Computer hipsters are using to judge them. This is why a Jeff Mangum return is needed now more than ever.

Interest in Aeroplane is higher now than it has ever been. How odd that the rampant praise for the album is one of the reasons Mangum dipped out of the spotlight in the first place. Just look at how much interest Mangum raised late last year when he played a few spots on the Elephant 6 Tour. Although he only played two songs, his fans went rampant at the idea of a new record or tour from the textbook recluse. If a tour is announced, it will undoubtedly become the biggest event of the decade for indie rock, and with only a few months to spare.

The generation below mine has yet to have their transformative music experience. In fact, my generation hasn’t even had its own. Mangum has the ability to give us exactly what we need most right now in music; something that can transform us. Since Aeroplane, there has been no other record that so perfectly blends everything that entails being alive into just 40 mintues worth of “soft, silly music”. Mangum didn’t just teach us how to rock out. He taught us how to breathe in a way we never thought possible.

As fanboyish as it sounds, I do not see any other artist making music today that has the potential to do what Mangum did. If we get what we ask for and another Neutral Milk Hotel album is announced (or perhaps a Jeff Mangum solo album), many of us would be too scared to listen. It would be like going to your favorite theme park growing up at the age of thirty and realizing it wasn’t quite as good as you thought it was. However, for all intents and purposes, we need to go back to our childhood one more time, just to see if we can. And if we can’t, we’ll walk away knowing that there is something else out there for us now.

I guess it’s all up to Mangum.

Review – Neutral Milk Hotel – In the Aeroplane Over the Sea Monday, Jul 13 2009 

The public school system has always perplexed me. Everyday, America’s school children are either fed misinformation about the world around them or are fed factual information that they’re not mentally prepared to deal with. For instance, seventh grade is when we start to learn American history. We’re taught that Christopher Columbus discovered America and that the Emancipation Proclamation freed the slaves, as well as several other complete fabrications, when we’d be just as fine knowing that the Vikings arrived in America long before Christopher Columbus ever did and that Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation did nothing more for the slaves than his original idea and putting all blacks on a boat and shipping them back to Africa. On the flip-side of the coin, seventh grade is when we’re told about Anne Frank for the first time. At the age of twelve, non of us were able to grapple the true weight of Diary of a Young Girl, Anne Frank’s vivid transcription of living in an attic with her family in a fruitless attempt to avoid the horrors of the holocaust. However, Jeff Mangum of Netrual Milk Hotel, for whatever reason, never read the story in his younger years and wasn’t exposed to it until he was very much an adult. After reading it for the first time sometime in the late 90’s, Mangum was floored with the beautiful tragedy of Frank’s tale. His dreams were haunted with visions of the Frank family, often leading him to awake in a cold sweat in the wee hours of the morning. These emotions permeated his songwriting and in 1998 Netraul Milk Hotel released In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, a pseudo-concept album detailing various emotions of the tale. It was to be Neutral Milk Hotel’s last album and, unknown to Mangum, one of the indie music’s defining albums, inspiring such acts of Franz Ferdinand, Arcade Fire, and the Dresden Dolls

The albums music is, for the most part, standard instrumentation for indie music. Acoustic guitars, buzz distortion, and various horns are scattered throughout the record, all backing up Mangum’s definitive indie-folk vocals. Often times, the instruments will just strum a droning chord or two as Mangum’s vocals dance melodically around the tonic (“The King of Carrot Flowers Pts. Two and Three”). Don’t take the word “droning” too seriously though as the album does have it’s upbeat moments. “Holland 1945” may be the most exciting song about the holocaust ever written (sorry, Max Bemis, “Alive with the Glory of Love” will have to accept second place). Even the when the music is is simplified, Mangum’s lyrics hold each song together. On some songs, I consider it an oddly fun game to try and pick out all the references to Anne Frank’s diary in the lyrics (“The King of Carrot Flowers Pt. One”) while on others, it seems as if each line is more spine-tingling than the last, evoking goosebumps as Mangum makes the story of Anne Frank seem more real than our seventh grade history teacher ever could (“Oh Comely”). The title track momentarily drops the holocaust theme in favor of sending a message about appreciating youth. Even the albums instrumentals are fantastic pieces, whether they be solemn marches (“The Fool”) or Cloud Cult-esque affairs full of buzz and effects (“untitled”).

It’s no wonder why this album is held in such high esteem. While it is often looked at as nothing more than an album used by indie kids to make themselves seem more intellectual than the average music listener, this record is nothing short of genius. Although, at times, Mangum’s vocals can drift a little too close to a drone (“Communist Daughter”) or a little to close too an annoying yell (“Two-Headed Boy”), for the vast majority of the record, everything is spot on. The world of indie music is anxiously awaiting and hoping for more material from Mangum and Neutral Milk Hotel but with a record as beautiful and unique as this one, it I wouldn’t mind if he never put another pen to another sheet of paper. This brilliant work of art will be enough to hold me over until the next Jeff Mangum comes along and sees the true beauty in another work that many of us have cast off. Perhaps Animal Farm will get it’s own album or maybe that’s just my own wishful thinking.

Overall score: Classic