Sunday Morning: Going Nowhere With Neutral Milk Hotel

An obscure art band delivers a timeless album.

There is rock 'n' roll that makes the moment feel hyper alive. Rock 'n' roll like Prodigy's "Breathe" or Foo Fighter's "Everlong" or Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" or Third Eye Blind's "Graduate."

When I hear one of those songs, time stops and right now, this specific moment, becomes even more intense.

That's the rock 'n' roll you want to hear when cruising above the speed limit, when you're hangin' with the crew, hittin' the clubs or just need to jolt yourself back into the present.

And then there is rock that seems to have nothing to do with the moment. The first time I played the Beach Boys Pet Sounds, it sounded both timeless, and completely out-of-time. There is no way to attach "Caroline No" to 1966, which is when it was released.

Van Morrison's Astral Weeks and the obscure works of Nick Drake sit on a shelf with no date. Listening to them doesn't inspire nostalgia, because they are not attached to a time period, unlike an album like Country Joe and the Fish's Electric Music for the Mind and Body, that might as well be stamped with a date across the front cover.

But for these timeless albums, It is almost as if when they happened to be released was a random thing, a roll of the dice. If eleven comes up, release Pink Moon in 1972, if seven comes up, release Time of No Reply in 1986. Or 1966. Or 2003.

Albums like Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band's Trout Mask Replica and Lick My Decals Off sound like they were created by aliens. The only thing that even slightly made them fit at the time they were released was that in the late '60s and early '70s, there was an aesthetic of weird in vogue in some circles that could embrace their strangeness, their otherworldliness and make it seem part of the counterculture of the day.

On Tuesday, an album that for now seems to belong on that shelf with Pet Sounds, Guided By Voices' Bee Thousand and those Nick Drake albums, will be released. The album, by Neutral Milk Hotel, is called In the Aeroplane Over the Sea.

I'm not going to review the album here. For that you can head over to

SIZE=4>44.1 kHz, Addicted To Noise's reviews section.

Neutral Milk Hotel, whatever exactly it is -- band, collective, an eccentric studio wizard and his friends -- has produced art that, on first play, just like that 30-plus years old Beach Boys album, does not sound like "the moment." And although Neutral Milk Hotel apparently takes great pride in recording with old equipment, this is not a retro album. This is not about fans recreating what was. This is a miracle.

At a time when the record business is, for the most part, under the control of huge multi-national corporations, some -- certainly not all -- but some of the most intriguing music is being made by artists on their own, recording for microscopic labels. I think of Sleater-Kinney and Bikini Kill. And Modest Mouse. The Make-Up. And even Ani DiFranco.

Once upon a time, an artist like Beach Boys' leader Brian Wilson needed a big budget and the use of a big time recording studio, studio players and god knows what else to create art that would stand the test of time. That is no longer the case, and hasn't been for a while now.

In the Aeroplane Over the Sea is of no time and no place. It feels like it came from nowhere. And it makes me want to go there. Not forever. Just for a visit. [Sun., Feb. 8, 1998, 9 a.m. PST]


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