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Neutral Milk Hotel

Country of origin:


Type of music generally:

Indie alternative pop/rock


Most recent release, Neutral Milk Hotel Box Set (compilation of all previous releases on vinyl, 2015)

See also:

Neutral Milk Hotel site

Wikipedia's Neutral Milk Hotel entry


I would call this a hybrid of Pere Ubu, Pearls Before Swine, the Salvation Army marching band, and...Mary Margaret O'Hara. (

Think Rufus meets the Jayhawks meets the Pogues. Then make it completely different. (

Covers/own material:


General comments:

Sonically, I would call this a hybrid of Pere Ubu, Pearls Before Swine, the Salvation Army marching band, and...Mary Margaret O'Hara. Which is not to say that the band itself sounds like (, but there's a similar energy, a similar fervor there, and the same kind of feeling that this is music you don't just hear, but that you absorb with your pores.
     Of all the bands whose music has played an active role in my life, whose beautiful melodies, insightful lyrics, and deep emotion has helped me to better understand my life and the world around me, only Neutral Milk Hotel have inspired me to make them a cake. Neutral Milk Hotel's music inspires this reaction in me because their music, like much good art, is like food: it tastes good, and listening to it makes me feel nourished and gives me energy to put into my everyday life and creative endeavours. (

Comments about live performance:

My major qualm in seeing the band perform live was whether or not they'd be able to sustain said energy and passion over an extensive live set. After all, it's easy to keep energy going on a studio album, since it's easier to keep the energy levels high over an extensive period of time in a studio than in the concentrated atmosphere of a rock concert, and that combined with Mangum's feeling that Neutral Milk Hotel will eventually be a project confined to the studio made me fear the worst. However, the record was wonderful enough to warrant a desire to see them live.
     And, happily, their live set was amazing. Though the band wasn't tight and cohesive in the traditional sense, they had much fun throwing out musical curveballs, trying new improvs in front of a captive audience and being adventurous with these tunes. The sometimes-uncontrollable live setup threw the band off track once or twice—after a lighting-related snafu that aborted the opening of "Naomi", Mangum explained to the audience that "I like bagpipes because you can tape them down. You can't tape down lights, and that can confuse me." And sometimes the musical limbs they went out on weren't solid enough to support them, as with the set-closing improvisation that bogged down the pace of the set.
     However, when one is in the presence of genius, one does not quibble. The band were clearly having lots of fun on stage, as their antic bouncing-around onstage would suggest, and the passionate encore medley of "Two Headed Boy Pt. II" and "The Fool" brought out the eerie shadows in both songs, especially when the former, a ballad suggesting both sexual awakening and suicide, was paired with the bleating funeral dirge. Hotel concierge Jeff Mangum had an appealingly youthful presence that dovetailed with his songs of innocence and experience; his wide-eyed approach to music and choirboy's voice gave the songs, particularly the darker tunes, an eerie impact.
     After the show, I noticed Mangum walking around, doing after-show business and talking with fans, with a ring of brown frosting and chocolate crumbs around his mouth. I hope the cake left him with as much of a feeling of satisfaction in his belly as his music leaves with me.
     (Aargh. This is sort of a stream-of-consciousness review, and I apologise for the occasional lapses into sycophantry. Ah well, 'twas fun while it lasted.) (7/88,

Earlier tonight, Neutral Milk Hotel barely held off disaster at the Black Cat. Arriving at the club at 11:00, they hurriedly took the stage, so the first 4 or 5 tunes were basically sound check. They kept apologizing for the terrible playing and various problems, but it was still a fascinating show, with moments of real amazement. I'm in awe of the sound you get when you stick a mic all the way into a trombone and play the lowest notes you can on it! And it's not too often you get to see a band play the saw repeatedly. But the best tunes came at the least cacaphonous moments, when it was quiet enough to understand the twisted and amazing lyrics. (neal)

Recommended first album:

In the Aeroplane Over the Sea


  • Everything Is [Fire] (ep, 1995)
  • On Avery Island (1996)
  • In the Aeroplane Over the Sea (1998)
  • Everything Is [Orange Twin] (ep, 2001)
  • Ferris Wheel on Fire (EP, 2011)
  • Neutral Milk Hotel Box Set (compilation of all previous releases on vinyl, 2015)

In the Aeroplane Over the Sea

Release info:

1997—Merge Records—MRG136CD


Wide in U.S.

Ecto priority:

Recommended for fans of offbeat rock

Group members:

Jeff Mangum—guitar, voice, floortom, bowed fuzz bass, tapes, shortwave radio
Jeremy Barnes—drums, organ
Scott Spillane—trumpet, flugelhorn, trombone, Euphonium
Julian Koster—wandering genie, the singing saw, bowed banjo, accordion, white noise

Guest artists:

Robert Schneider—home organ, air organ, fuzz bass, harmony vocal, one-note piano
La Carter—zanaithophone Rick Ben—trombone
Ma Bissinger—saxophone, flugelhorn
Michelle Anderson—uilleann pipes

Produced by:

Robert Schneider


If anyone wants a recommendation on a non-ecto cd—try Neutral Milk Hotel's In the Aeroplane over the Sea. we've both become addicted. It's a reaction to reading anne frank and the music is really erratically beautiful and quirky and sad and skewed. It really is great. For some reason, I want to compare it to Veda Hille but can't. They both have me addicted and both are excellent but that's about it. Or is it? Ah, to be able to put music into words. This last year or two they've been in our cd players way too much. (

a month or so ago, i finally succumbed to fegmaniax peer pressure and listened to in the aeroplane over the sea (a fellow feg who hated it gave it to me, actually) and i find it strangely wonderful. skewed is a good word. the band's creative force, jeff magnum, is neither a good singer nor a great musician, and the music is rough, brash and loud...but it's infectious and weirdly attractive, kind of like a freak show at the circus. i often listen to it two or three times in a row (much to meredith's chagrin) since one listen just isn't enough.
     interesting! i wouldn't have thought of the Veda Hille comparison myself but, yeah, i know what you mean. they're stylistically very different (so i wouldn't automatically recommend neutral milk hotel to any fan of veda's), but i think they share a common ground of disturbance and uneasiness. glenn macdonald (the war against silence) said that spine left him with a physical queasiness. in the aeroplane over the sea doesn't have quite the same effect, but is somewhat disturbing to listen to. (

What larks! A potential thread about one of my all-time favourite new albums, In An Aeroplane Over The Sea. Man oh man alive, what an amazing, incredible album. (swoon) This is easily one of the best things I've heard all year. Like Woj pointed out, Jeff Magnum is neither a great singer nor a great musician, but he has a great ear for beauty and is quite profound. Yikes, what a talent (though not in the traditional sense).
     Musically, In An Aeroplane Over The Sea resembles a Molotov cocktail made of Pere Ubu's obtuse angularity, the hippie-dippy Christian spirituality of Tom Rapp, Mary Margaret O'Hara's intoxicating vision and graceful stutter, and the tarnished brass filigree of the Salvation Army Marching Band, but only list the possible influences would be leaving out the other half of the equation, the spine-tingling magic realism, innocence, and hope, and the passion and urgency in executing these story songs that could well make this the album of the year.
     Hotel concierge Jeff Mangum provides the yang to Mary Margaret O'Hara's yin, taking her religious fervor and suction-cup intensity and putting it into a darker perspective, showing the undersides of scary situations but never losing track of the humanity. Oh, and the brass is pretty, too. (

That album is pretty amazing. (neal)

thanks to all those who talked this up. noisy, annoying, horrible vocals, and yet still somehow incredibly endearing, not to mention hook-laden. I'm finding it quite tasty, but this is REALLY one where your mileage may vary. Hmm. Think Rufus meets the Jayhawks meets the Pogues. Then make it completely different.
     (I'm tempted to include it in my best of the year, but Jeff Magnus has such a weird voice and there's so much bizarre noise in the album that it's hard to really recommend—it's the sort of thing you might have to listen to 30 times before you understood it. Sort of like a lo-fi roots-rock implementation of the Pixies from the Come On Pilgrim days. (

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