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Tuesday, December 01, 2015

Neutral Milk Hotel -- On Avery Island

 photo 220px-On_avery_island_album_cover_zpsy9kteh9u.jpg

Like most people, I purchased Neutral Milk Hotel's first album, On Avery Island, after hearing their second. Like most people, I thought, uh...this ain't as good as the second one. Unlike a strange, small contingent of contrarians, I don't think On Avery Island is the best thing Neutral Milk Hotel have released out of the two things they have released. It isn't. However, when looked at objectively, and 17 years after its follow-up was released, On Avery Island is actually a very enjoyable album, and at its worst, just an embryonic version of Neutral Milk Hotel's second full-length.
"Song Against Sex" sounds like Bourbon Street, with its "When the Saints Go Marching In" two-step bassline and shuffling drum beat, feisty horns, and Jeff Mangum singing like someone who's both friendly and mentally unhinged. From there, On Avery Island sets out Neutral Milk Hotel's 1996 Modus Operandi: big fuzzy bass, rocking acoustic guitar, Mangum singing non-sensical lyrics with bizarre sexual imagery, a jaunty drum beat, tossed in horns and organ sometimes, along with some tape loops and field recordings; intersperse those with here-and-there noisy, wordless experiments, paace the whole thing well, and that's the album. It's quick and fun, especially if you cut out before the 14-minute, all fuzz finale. You've also got the quiet, slow-burning "Three Peaches" as a precursor to "Oh Comely." Also, "Naomi" is the kind of song Kurt Cobain would have written if he hadn't died two years before it was recorded-- driving, yet mellow, like you have a lot of emotion to get out, but you know you can relax while you do it. That's pretty much On Avery Island in a nutshell, and also, I imagine the reverse of theoretically alive Kurt Cobain's career, as he would have mellowed and probably not released music as urgent and important as his earlier work, and Jeff Mangum was actually going to release his more urgent and important work after this, but then he died, too, except just metaphysically, as his most urgent and important work is the last full-length album Neutral Milk Hotel ever released, and I'll get to that one next time, though it's nice to know that one can always come back to On Avery Island when they need more Mangum. Also, I've been to Avery Island. It's right down the road. It's nice.

1996 Merge Records
1. Song Against Sex 3:40
2. You've Passed 2:54
3. Someone Is Waiting 2:31
4. A Baby for Pree 1:21
5. Marching Theme 2:58
6. Where You'll Find Me Now 4:04
7. Avery Island/April 1st 1:48
8. Gardenhead/Leave Me Alone 3:14
9. Three Peaches 4:01
10. Naomi 4:53
11. April 8th 2:47
12. Pree-Sisters Swallowing a Donkey's Eye 13:49

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