Personnel: Jeff Mangum (vocals, guitar, air organ, xylophone, Casio, drums, bells, tape loops); Rick Benjamin (trombone); Robert Schnieder (air organ, organ, bass, xylophone); Lisa Janssen (bass); Marisa Bissinger, Hilarie Sidney, Dane Terry, Aaron Reedy.
Principally recorded at Elephant 6, Dane Terry and Marisa Bissinger's house, Denver, Colorado between February and May 1995.
Though singer/songwriter/bandleader Jeff Magnum would refine his brilliant, quirky psych-folk to perfection on the majestic IN THE AEROPLANE OVER THE SEA, ON AVERY ISLAND--the first offering from Neutral Milk Hotel--is full of rich rewards. Magnum distinguishes himself from his fellow Elephant 6 cohorts Apples In Stereo and Olivia Tremor Control by trading sunshiny acid-dipped Beatles-esque pop for a somewhat edgier sound, centered (perhaps ironically) on acoustic guitar and introspective (albiet surreal and associative) lyrics.
Punky squalls of distorted guitar, brass arrangements, a thick, muted rhythm section, and an onslaught of swirling, otherworldly noise cascade around Magnum's clean acoustic guitar and strained, plaintive vocals. The resulting stew is equal parts sensitive guitar troubadour and lo-fi indie pop a la Guided By Voices. Tunes such as "Song Against Sex," "Someone Is Waiting," and the beautiful, ghostly "Three Peaches" prove Magnum a powerful songwriter--one who employs enough lyrical sheen and existential confusion to make the songs challenging, and enough hooks to keep them accessible. The band stakes out impressive new sonic territory with this release, making them one of the brightest stars in the Elephant 6 constellation.
Spin (1/97, p.61) - "...Neutral Milk Hotel dress up the usual shambles pop with sad trombones, cartoony organ, `various Indonesian instruments,' and primitive loops; Jeff Mangum's choirboy vocals go out on long rambles and get giddily lost in sibilants..."
Q (12/96, p.140) - 3 Stars (out of 5) - "...a world of stimulant-conducive sensoria, stuffed with keyboard drones, fuzzed guitars, nasal vocals, where-is-my-mind lyricism hitched to a whooshing acid electronica..."
Uncut (p.85) - 4 stars out of 5 -- "NMH here plough a sweet yet decidedly experimental furrow of psychpop, art/drone rock and leftfield electronica..."
Magnet (p.84) - "[T]he punk/psych songs were fully developed, beautiful and strange."
Village Voice (2/25/97) - Ranked #35 in the Village Voice's 1996 Pazz & Jop Critics' Poll.
Kerrang (Magazine) (p.48) - "[A]n epic, sometimes psychedelic cacophony....It's eclectic tastes and broad horizons on a budget..."
Q (Magazine) (p.109) - 3 stars out of 5 -- "[A]lternately fast and slow, lo-fi and lavish....There's an elegiac swoon on 'Where You'll Find Me Now'."
Mojo (Publisher) (p.122) - 3 stars out of 5 -- "Opener 'Song Against Sex' is a folk rock protest played with riotous gusto on buzzing acoustics, Mangum's gift for enigmatic lyrical intrigue and his impassioned holler played to the fore."
NME (Magazine) (9/14/96, p.51) - 8 (out of 10) - "...Jazzbos may have made the US underground their very own this year but with ON AVERY ISLAND, lead Hotelier Jeff Magnum harbours far more populist plans....Neutral Milk Hotel have done that which is unheard of in these chin-stroking times: released a toe-tapping hook-laden, honest-to-God pop album..."
Uncut (magazine) (p.91) - 4 stars out of 5 -- "NMH are dedicated to all things heroically lo-fi, fuzz-encrusted and opaquely sprawling....Compelling personal songs..."