Sound — 10
I hated this album the first time I put it in. Absolutely despised it. Turned it off halfway through track 3, the title track of the album. I began cursing my friend who had reccomended it to me, and lamenting my misspending of $12. "I can sing better than that," was my biggest gripe, as Jeff Mangum's voice is reminscent of Rufus Wainwright abusing helium and ether. After several listens though, I began to realize that the stark contrast of his voice with the chaotic but beautiful melodies he creates was one of a kind and to this point has never really been recreated as well as it is here.
Lyrics — 10
Unreal, and by far my favorite component of the album. These lyrics are mind boggling, and everyone I know who has listened to the album agrees with me that they are some of the best ever written. Upon first listen they seem lighthearted and dreamy in many of the songs, but a much more sinister layer of meaning exists underneath. The origins of the songs and this album blew my mind. I loved this album before I knew anything about Neutral Milk Hotel, and I didn't bother to research them until long after I discovered it. Shortly before recording this album, Jeff Mangum read "The Diary Of Anne Frank" and began to have recurring nightmares that he was in a similar situation (hiding with his family from the Nazi forces to avoid being shipped off to concentration camps, for those who haven't read the book). These nightmares were the inspiration for almost all of the songs, and after learning this, alot of the tracks took on chilling new meanings. Anytime he mentions "she" or "her" he's referring to Anne Frank, so lines such as "I know they buried her body with others, her sister and mother and 500 families" from 'Oh Comely' and "The only girl I've ever loved was born with roses in her eyes, but then they buried her alive one year in 1945" from 'Holland, 1945' become very real and very frightening in a historical context. After learning of the inspiration, it was almost like listening to a completely new album. The few people who don't like this album usually cite this as their reason, the darkness of the lyrics when you really listen to them, but I feel that it is merely a testament to Mangum's talents that he can make so dark a subject matter so enjoyable to listen to.
Overall Impression — 10
I think (and I will probably get killed for this) this can lay a small but legitimate claim to the title of best album of all time. It's not really revolutionary in any sense, but its certainly the pinnacle of indie rock and more defined by tweaking the rules of music to its fancy then kicking down any doors. This is the only album ever that the stingy mofos over at Pitchfork have awarded a perfect 10, and I'm going to have to agree with them. It's beautifully crafted and haunting, and arranged to perfection. You can even hear him put down the guitar and walk away at the end of the last track, symbolic perhaps of the fact that Mangum may never return considering nobody has heard from Neutral Milk Hotel since this album was released 8 years ago. I personally can't blame him, because I can't imagine making an album this good being anything but completely draining, both physically and emotionally. Highly, highly reccomended, but keep an open mind as you will likely hate it upon first listen as well. Once you get used to his voice, you are in for a musical journey unlike anything you have ever experienced.