Saturday, August 06, 2016


One of the things about being out of the flow of pop or even alternative culture, but having the archival resources of the internet and other people at your disposal, is that I get to make discoveries long after others, things that are in a sense pre-curated for me.  One great recent example is Neutral Milk Hotel. I remember a couple of years back they played in the parking lot in front of the Cradle as part of Merge Fest, I think, and I was like "who the heck is that?" There was some good reason I didn't look them up at the time, plus it was gonna be a million degrees out in the parking lot, but sometime later on Facebook somebody posted a song and I checked it out and was like, dag, this is special.

Apparently inspired by the story of Anne Frank, it really doesn't matter. What shines through is the intense level of commitment of Jeff Mangum, the front man, to his vision of whatever universe the album occupies. They're from the south, so I always thought it was kind of Faulkneresque, with all the wombs, rattlesnakies, sweaty bodies, semen and dreams, sounded like trailer society to me, but what do I know. Mangum's voice isn't that pretty, but it is intensely expressive and he fully inhabits the songs, and part of it is that, as you teach yourself the songs on guitar and start singing them, it becomes clear that he doesn't breathe much as he sings them, and he stretches his lungs, and there is something to the sheer physical demands of the songs that is compelling.

As with the Shins, there is a huge subculture of particularly teens alone in their bedrooms playing these songs that is discoverable on YouTube.  Maybe this is true of lots of artists these days, not just the ones I get intrigued by. Whatever. It strikes me that great songwriters create new dimensions of soul, which others step in to inhabit with covers.

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