It’s fitting for a band obsessed with Anne Frank to be reclusive. After a 12-year vanishing act, Neutral Milk Hotel is touring again. The group has entered a gilded age, and rightly so.
Case in point: The lyrics to “Oh Comely” — frontman Jeff Mangum’s 8-minute opus — are broader and wordier than a David Foster Wallace novel, and beautiful to boot. Think metaphysical poet Andrew Marvell on LSD, forced to watch footage of Nazi soldiers saluting der Führer. The track went down perfectly in one epic take, inspiring Gerbils singer Scott Spillane to scream “Holy Shit!” from the mixing booth.
If you haven’t heard Neutral Milk Hotel — the indie-rock band started in the late ’80s by Mangum — kindly recycle this newspaper, strap on some headphones and listen now.
How does one characterize the band’s sound? It falls somewhere between neo-freak-folk-psych acoustic and Bavarian-gutter-punk marching band. Everything from French horn to a musical saw makes an appearance on the band’s critically acclaimed 1998 release, In the Aeroplane Over the Sea. It’s unfathomable that such a jumble of instruments could emerge a masterpiece, but somehow it happened.
Almost two decades later, hipsters everywhere continue to cream their breeks whenever that first chunky F-chord of “The King of Carrot Flowers, Pt. 1” comes blaring through coffeehouse speakers. I get it. It’s fucking orgasmic. It’s like the first step on a long existential journey through the mind of a foamy-mouthed scholar with Roget’s vocabulary and a penchant for European history.
So where did they go? Why did they leave us with such a meager discography? Answer: The music biz is a mercurial bitch. Mangum had a nervous breakdown and, without a head, the heart can’t survive. So that was that. Meanwhile, drummer and accordion player Jeremy Barnes went on to form A Hawk And A Hacksaw, another brilliant indie conception.
The Neutral Milk Hotel website clearly states that “this will be our last tour for the foreseeable future.” Depressing, I know. But even if the band members go their separate ways and make an infinite number of records, none will compare to In The Aeroplane Over The Sea. The album contains the word “semen” five times. Maybe it’s just a coincidence, but I like to think Mangum knew he was writing a seminal work of art.
So scalp, barter, crash the gates. Do what you must in order to see them, because June 3 is sold out already, and this could be your final chance.
Robert Schneider of The Apples in Stereo (and who produced In the Aeroplane Over the Sea) joins Neutral Milk Hotel 8 pm Wednesday, June 3, at McDonald Theatre; SOLD OUT.