91 of 93 people found the following review helpful
on January 12, 2004
Here's the deal. If you like your lo-fi indie folk-rock with a psychedelic twist, horns and uncanny melodies underlining gorgeous, surreal lyrics, then you might be into NMH.
While not a technically great singer, Jeff Mangum has one of the most honest voices I've ever heard. He's got Perry Ferrel's crack, Bob Dylan's drift and David Byrne's nasal tone all wrapped up nicely within his own unique style.
The guitar is really interesting. Sometimes it gets heavy, but retains a basic, bouncy sound. Not punk. Not folk. I almost want to say it reminds me of my kindergarten teacher... but in an accomplished, majestic way.
Now, the lyrics. Wow. I mean WOW. Stunning imagery, insightful, intensely personal, poetic, stream of consciousness, mostly verse with rarely a touch of chorus, a dream being narrated. Like snippets of Proust on acid. They meld perfectly with the melody flowing from Mangum's voice. I haven't been this into lyrics since I was a brooding teenager! I'm sorry, I can't help it, I have to give you a little taste...
"Follow me through
A city of frost covered angels
I swear I have nothing to prove
I just want to dance in your tangles
To give me some reason to move
But to take on the world at all angles
Requires a strength I can't use
So I'll meet you up high in your anger
Of all that is hoping and waiting for you"
I gotta leave it at that. Try it.
88 of 99 people found the following review helpful
on July 26, 1999
Hearing this album for the first time, I didn't know where I stood. For one thing, there were horns--wasn't that the domain of 80's overproduction? For another, there's a lot of plaintive singing and strumming--folkies? But something hooked me, the carnivalesque atmosphere, the raw emotion which is either completely absent from today's music or guised as acceptable radio "angst," the shortwave radio-as-instrument. Because the horns are not blues-faking saxes but rather Salvation Army rag-tag meets the Moroccan Jajouka pipers. The strumming is naked, intimate, vulnerable, angry. The bass is fuzzy, propellant. The drumming seems to explode. And the lyrics, seemingly convoluted, are really words standing in for dreams. Hey, this was the record I never knew I was waiting for!
I've argued with friends over which is the better NMH record--this one or their follow-up, "Aeroplane." It's unfair to compare this with the more somber and perfect "In the Aeroplane over the Sea," but this record does make a great antidote because it's more like a carnival ride. The band is not quite as tight and the experimentalism is a little wilder. It is as good as any other Elephant 6 record out there. From the buoyant opening of "Song Against Sex" you know it's time to grip the harness tight and hold on, because by the time "Pree" morphs into the "Marching Theme," Kansas will be just a vague memory for you and your little dog, too. By the time the achingly beautiful "Naomi" begins, you will have conversed with angels and gardenheads will know your name. And for those of you who don't care for the sweet keening of Jeff Mangum's voice, may I suggest Michael Bolton and Mariah Carey. We who like singers that don't come in a neat package know better.
25 of 27 people found the following review helpful
on August 24, 2002
Although this is a very good CD, it's very different than "In the Aeroplane Over the Sea." For one, there's much more musical experimentation. While "Aeroplane" had songs like "Oh Comely" and both incarnations of "Two-Headed Boy" that were mostly Jeff Magnum's voice and an acoustic guitar, every song on this CD is a distinct soundscape. The lyrics are wilder and more paranoid, if there are lyrics, depicting roller coasters drowning their riders in the ocean, the apocolypse being triggered by a dead guy in a painting. a girl being stalked and having her dresses stolen, and other simillarly bizzare scenarios. "Someone is Waiting," "Marching Theme," and "Pree-Sisters Swallowing A Donkey's Eye" are outright feedback jam sessions, focusing on complete and utter distortion. The recording quality is purposely bad, making everything sound even more contorted than it would normally sound. If you aren't repulsed by all this (as 99.9% of the world's population should be), then buy this album. You'll love it. It's the next Sergent Pepper's. If you're scared, then maybe you'd like "In the Aeroplane Over the Sea." But whatever the case, Neutral Milk Hotel is one of my favorite bands, and I like them despite their weirdness.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on January 6, 2007
You can't compare the two Neutral Milk Hotel Albums. Really you just can't. Each is a totally different being. So I don't want to say this is a better album then Over the Sea because I don't think it is and I also don't think it's not as good in any way either. I don't think you can really say what album is better. For myself personally this one does it for me more. There is something so raw and original about this album that I don't know what to do with myself when I hear it. Words seem stupid when trying to describe this so I'm going to stop here and just say that this is a piece of art worthy of the attention of all.
11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on August 28, 2002
Well, if you've already listened to In the Aeroplane Over the Sea a million plus times, then maybe you're ready for NMH's first album, On Avery Island. It is quite different than Aeroplane at first, but once you give it a couple of listens, it will be just as good (if not better) than Aeroplane.
The main difference is the actual sound. On Avery Island sounds very raw and ragged, while Aeroplane is more polished. Avery Island is more rock, it seems, and definitely more psychadelic than Aeroplane. However, if you like more psychadelic music, On Avery Island is a WONDERFUL place to learn more about NMH.
The album roars open with "Song Against Sex" and finally calms down some with "A Baby for Pree," a beautiful piece that shows off Jeff Magnum's amazing voice, which is more of an instrument itself than a voice. "Garden Head Leave Me Alone" is also a great song, as is "Naomi." But it's hard to seperate the songs since they all flow so well into one another.
Buy this album! You will love it!
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on April 13, 2006
I would only recommend On Avery Island to fans of Neutral Milk Hotel who have already become familiar with their more successful and higher praised album, In the Aeroplane Over the Sea. On Avery Island is a little more difficult to adapt to than the band's final album; that said, it certainly holds its own when compared to Aeroplane, as it holds the key to what made that album so incredible- Jeff Mangum's frighteningly honest lyrics. With perhaps the exception of the closing track (a 13 minute noise-fest that tests the ears of even the most open-minded of listeners), On Avery Island is entirely enjoyable and every bit as moving as Aeroplane. In fact, such songs as Gardenhead and Naomi bring me back to this album more often than what is considered by many to be the band's prime achievement. If you enjoyed In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, pick this one up- you're sure to love it.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on July 13, 1999
If you're looking at this CD after buying the almost perfect "In the Aeroplane Over the Sea" you might be somewhat disappointed. This one lacks the polish of Aeroplane -- but what it lacks in production it makes up for in freshness. It's inventive without being preciously "indie" and the lyrics are personal yet accessible-- no one does sincerity like Jeff Mangum.
In the final analysis, this CD could have used some editing, but it's still fresher than almost anything coming out of Musicland these days, and I was extremely pleased with my purchase.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Though their sophomore album was a step up, "On Avery Island" is rough, ragged psychedelic rock that blasts you to the floor. Surreal lyrics, thick and heavy melodies, it's one of those few albums that can actually be classified as an "experience."
It opens with the roaring, weirdly-catchy song "Song Against Sex" (don't ask why it's called that), followed with swaying jam session "Someone is Waiting" with its twanging finale, and softer songs like the low-key, accoustic-led "Baby For Pree." The surreality kicks in with "Marching Session," a mix of distortion and whistles, a song that can't really be described -- you can only focus on one part of it at a time.
Musical soundscapes are usually smooth and shimmering. Neutral Milk Hotel leaped into unknown territory by making theirs distorted and scratchy. You won't like this unless you embrace the weird and unconventional, accepting the music that is deliberately done in a jam session style, unpolished and apparently recorded badly on purpose. The climax of the album is undoubtedly "Pree-Sisters Swallowing A Donkey's Eye," a toneless, whirring, whirling mess of sound and humming that somehow coalesces into a breathtaking soundscape.
The writing of the songs is about as unique as possible. Songs about hanging men in paintings "kissing foreign fishes," riding roller coasters into the sea, cities of "frost-covered angels," stalkers and babies fill "On Avery Island." Jeff Mangum's voice is high, reedy, and not that great, but it fits in well with the strange music.
"On Avery Island" is one of those albums that you either worship or dislike. Its lo-fi, horrifyingly surrealistic feel is one that will cling to your mind long after "Pree Sisters" has faded out to silence.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on February 18, 2001
My, there are some really, really, really good songs on this album! I could listen to (and sing!) Gardenhead, Where You'll Find Me Now, Naomi, and especially the opening track over and over and over. However, I cannot rate it five stars for two reasons. One, there's a lot of unlistenable filler mixed in here as well. And two, I had the misfortune of listening to the sheer sonic ecstasy that is their follow-up, "In The Aeroplane Over The Sea" first. After I let that cd reverberate through my soul the first hundred times (I don't think I'm kidding), it's very hard for me to give five stars to anything anymore.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on August 31, 2001
I'm sure, like many other listeners, that I heard this after being blown away by Aeroplane. While this is less polished (?less "produced") than its sucessor, I think the raw emotional energy here is more powerful. Don't get me wrong, I think Aeroplane is probably a better starting place. It's just that once you've gotten used to the sound collage and inside Jeff's head, you will need to listen to this CD.......many, many times.