I was never one who felt comfortable in social situations when I was younger; so to save face when someone asked if I knew a certain piece of information or had seen a certain movie, I would bolster their admiration for me with a bold-faced lie. “Of course,” I’d say, “do you take me for some misinformed hermit so at of touch with reality that I would not know of this monumental piece of cultural heritage known as Pogs? I watch the movie constantly!”
“But, its a game…you play with like, little bits of cheap plastic with goofy pictures on it,” they’d reply. To which I would respond with a quick retreat and a constant, biting desire never to talk to them again.
What my younger and quite a bit more awkward self failed to realize was, before we had the internet the easiest way to learn about things you may have an interest in was through other people. If you struck up a conversation about your favorite past times and they asked if you’ve ever played this game, and you hadn’t, the correct response would be “why no, I have never heard of such a wonder; pray tell, how do teenage turtles travel through time?”
Boom. You just got invited to play the best kung-fu fighting, hormonal-ridden side-scrolling turtle game in existence.
Learning for my past errors, I now actively seek new things that are akin to my interests. And if I’ve never heard of it, I find out if it can be packed into that rather full category of interesting. Sometimes I find it by myself, but a majority of the time its handed to me by a stranger or friend.
This is how I came about the band Neutral Milk Hotel. What is that, you’ve never heard of them?
Not surprisingly so, seeing as they broke up in 1999 after releasing two full albums. The band’s singer, creator, writer Jeff Mangum was the moving force behind the band and was the one who ultimately disbanded it after apparent touring stress and a nervous breakdown. Of the two albums, the second entitled In The Aeroplane Over the Sea was the most critically acclaimed. And while it didn’t hit double platinum, it has been cited by many to be one of the best albums from the past 20 or so years. The group has also helped to inspire such acts as The Decemberists and Arcade Fire.
So, why is a band that’s only put out a couple dozen songs worth listening to?
What struck me when I first popped the disc in a couple years ago was the fact that it didn’t sound like anything I had ever heard. A man with a voice that wouldn’t be considered by most to be classically beautiful (see Bob Dylan, Tom Waits) laid over spacey acoustics with horns, drums and various noises haunting the background. What followed was an eye-opening immersion into a musical world I had yet experienced; having lived on a steady diet of Rush, AC/DC and other classic rock. I was hooked and would drive around everywhere listening to the stuff on repeat and most likely looking like a scatter-brained maniac spouting nonsense when I would sing the lyrics in public.
The stuff is weird, the lyrics apparently based off dreams Magnum had about the family of Anne Frank. But it is catchy, in the way that obscure and seemingly jumbled words that feel like they are just escaping from your mouth can be. The pace of the album changes from fast, horn blazing and loud to slow strumming lyric-accompanied guitars with static and white noise floating just behind.
I wouldn’t say that first time walking around in a daze trying to comprehend what leaking into my ears was a religious experience, but man it was something.
So that’s what this band is to me; a key that opened my mind to a much wider world than I was ever aware of. Will it be that for everyone? Most certainly not. Will you like it because of how interesting I (hopefully) made the music sound? Of course not, taste is subjective. You might call me a weird, obscure music nut after throwing the speakers that just assaulted you with mad-man nonsense out of an open window. You might curse my name to the heavens, and tell your children’s children to stay far away from the demon known as Neutral Milk Hotel least they forfeit their soul to the dark lord below.
But, you’ll never know if you don’t give them a try.
And if you do enjoy this strange mixture of music, then you have a chance that no one has had in over 12 years. A week or so ago, Neutral announced on their website http://walkingwallofwords.com/ that they will be touring this year. The once limited tour has opened up considerably from their three or so dates to over fifteen or so shows.
You basically have the opportunity to see a band that hasn’t existed since the turn of the new millennium.
Admittedly I dropped the ball a bit, seeing as the tickets went on sale today and may or may not have already sold out.
If you don’t get to see them live after you’ve become addicted to their mad music thanks to my ramblings, my apologies. But, take heart, for a tour may turn into a return to the studio and a new album.
Whatever happens, I hope that you at least go online and listen to some of their stuff on Youtube, get it off iTunes, possibly check out their channel on Pandora, hell maybe even go to one of those old-fashioned smelly record store and pick the albums up. Just give them a chance, who knows, you might like it.