Well, it finally happened: Neutral Milk Hotel are reuniting. It’s been 15 years since they broke up, and in that time frontman Jeff Mangum chose to become a bit of a recluse and hide from the spotlight for quite a long time. His resurfacing in late 2010 came as something of a surprise, with a couple of small solo acoustic shows announced that later led to a full blown tour in 2011 and 2012. Most people (including myself) thought that’d be the end of it. Not that he’d recede back into the darkness (though that was certainly a possibility), but might continue to challenge himself in new and interesting ways either as a solo artist or with a new band. Yet earlier today, a strange message appeared on the Neutral Milk Hotel website accompanied by a few tour dates billed not as more Mangum solo shows but actual Neutral Milk Hotel ones. Yes, the band of Mangum, Scott Spillane, Julian Koster and Jeremy Barnes, which first came together after the 1996 release of On Avery Island, is officially back in action. If you live in Georgia, North Carolina, Japan or Taiwan, those are the places announced first for this tour, with the promise of more to come. It’s probably safe to assume they’ll hit every major U.S. city this fall, but we’ll see officially in the coming weeks and months. I know lots of people are really excited about this, and while I certainly understand the compulsion, to me the thrill feels almost unnecessary. Sure, these four guys are collectively responsible for one of the greatest albums of all time, In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, but I wonder how much of an impact they have on the overall sound when performing together. To put it a different way, after seeing Mangum perform NMH songs solo with a few of his friends occasionally stepping out from the shadows to fill in a horn section or some other important instrumental piece beyond the acoustic guitar, I’m not so sure that was much different than what the full band is going to sound like. I suppose it’ll be fuller and overall louder than the solo performances, but better? The power of these songs lies not so much in their robust compositions but instead the melody paired with Mangum’s incredible vocals and lyrics. Stripped away in a solo environment they retained all their essential qualities, so I could have cared less about the rest of the band. Still, will I go see them if (or when) they come to Chicago? Absolutely, without a doubt. I hope you’ll pick up a ticket should they come through your city as well. It’s thrilling that the band is back together, but let me know if they’re going to record any new material. That’s when I’ll really start jumping up and down with excitement. Okay, now onto today’s Pick Your Poison. Let me recommend tracks from Coloured Clocks, Mick Harvey, Mike Marlin, Saskatchewan, Saturday Night Gym Club and Wades. In the Soundcloud section after the jump, stream new songs from Clams Casino, Free Energy, Pure X and Chicago’s own Twin Peaks.
Wades – Hydrophone
Clams Casino – Bookfiend (ft. DOOM)
Expensive Looks – Ansel
Free Energy – Love Sign
Kisses – The Hardest Part (Jensen Sportag Remix)
Pure X – Thousand Year Old Child
Twin Peaks – Stand in the Sand