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A breathless rocking stream-of-consciousness romp
on August 24, 2011
"Song Against Sex" is a track from Neutral Milk Hotel's 1996 album "On Avery Island". The band, which was mainly a vehicle for singer/songwriter/guitarist Jim Magnum, produced only two full-length albums in its brief life; the second, which was released in 1998, got a better initial reception and also did well when it was re-released in the UK in 2006. I'm guessing that this free track marks a re-release of the first album in the US.
The track begins with a blast of feedback and some inaudible dialog between the players, setting up an informal garage band vibe. Aside from the odd intrusion of trombones at strategic times, the band is your basic bass/drums/guitar/very-fuzzy-electric-guitar combo. The drone of the fuzzy electric guitar gives the song a bit of a lo-fi sheen, but at higher volumes it's clear that the recording is sharp, immediate, and intimate. Magnum doesn't have much of a vocal range, but, aside from a couple of a Mariachi-like flourishes, he plays it cool.
The song itself is a kind of non-stop stream-of-consciousness rant that, like Lewis Carroll's "Hunting of the Snark" is organized in fits rather than complete verses or stanzas. The lyrics seems to be at least as much about suicide (or perhaps just death) as about sex, as suggested by the final fit:
"From anything we could call loving/Any love worth living for/So I'll sleep out in the gutter/You can sleep here on the floor/And when I wake up in the morning/I forgot to lock the door/Because with a match that's mean and some gasoline/You won't see me anymore"
It's difficult not to get the impression that AIDS is the never-mentioned link between suicide and sex, especially given a homoerotic passage in the first fit:
"And an eeriness surrounded when his tongue began to speak/And he said...Oh boy you are so pretty/Enough to wrap tight in rice-paper string/And when I finally kissed him the whole world began to ring"
Despite the death obsession, Magnum sounds more reflective than depressed, more amused than angry. In any event, Neutral Milk Hotel's "Song Against Sex" is about as strongly opposed to sex as Bill Clinton is, and it's a lot more fun to listen to. Recommended.