Friday, June 24, 2011

90's Hit Parade #53

Neutral Milk Hotel - Holland, 1945

I never read The Diary of Anne Frank, but it made an impression on me nonetheless. I remember a whole shelf of copies in our elementary school library, lined up, various shades of red and pink depending on how long they'd been sitting on the shelf. I knew the story of course, and it's easy to see how, for anyone that read the story at a young age, it could haunt you for the rest of your life. It haunted Jeff Mangum, and he devoted several songs on Neutral Milk Hotel's best-known record to the recurring dreams he had had about the character. And this song is definitely about a dream, imagery following that strange dream logic (at one point we see Anne Frank taking a tour of the Anne Frank house: "And here's where your mother sleeps/And this is the room where your brothers were born"). But you can also feel the deep horror at the real situation behind this story. It's definitely not for laughs.

NMH were sort of the odd addition to the Elephant 6 Collective, a group of indie-pop bands out of Athens, GA that also included Apples in Stereo and Olivia Tremor Control (and later several other bands, including the great Of Montreal). While the first two bands played distinctly 60's-style psychedelic pop, NMH were their own thing. They fit in in a general sense, but they didn't sound like anyone else. Honestly, I don't think In the Aeroplane Over the Sea is a solid album from start to finish, but the few songs that stand out are really amazing. Mangum's off-key singing, the odd instrumentation and lo-fi recording all work together to make this one of the best indie pop songs of the decade.


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