Even though I first heard Neutral Milk Hotel in the context of mid-90s Athens psych-pop, they’ve always seemed culturally homeless to me: too spirited for the slack posturing that dominated the era’s indie-rock and too fey for its latent masculinity, too rough for folkies but not coy enough to be indie pop. I was a teenager possessed by lust and here was “Holland, 1945,” a song that sounds like talent show Nirvana hooking up with a marching band, led by a Georgia hermit wailing about Anne Frank. Terminally unmarketable— and to me, real punk. An instant cult.
Jeff Mangum’s lyrics were full of concrete nouns but made no concrete sense. They didn’t dwell on his own specific space and time, but space and time in general: How they warp, refract, and continue indefinitely. This is how he comes to love a dead girl. This is how he sings a line like “It was good to be alive.” This is how he sees the bedsheets for who used to sleep there. Science lies: In the heart, everything exists all at once. Teenagers deserve to learn this from amateurs, and to believe it as long as the world lets them.
It’s both lament and anthem. He tried to hug the world despite the world’s cruelty. Of course, he hasn’t made another album: What more could he say, and how much more could he say it? — Mike Powell
On Avery Island is my favorite, but sometimes when I read words like these, I fall in love with Aeroplane all over again.