Review Summary: This is probably the closest we’ll ever get to that oh-so impossible feat of seeing Neutral Milk Hotel perform live once again.
It makes me forlorn to think about it, but it’s the truth. Jeff Mangum has moved on, but the cult-like fans certainly have not. It’s difficult to be a credible fan of indie music without having “In the Aeroplane Over the Sea” grace your lucky ears at least once or twice. The cryptic labyrinth of lyrics has touched so many on a distinctly personal (almost weirdly so) level. In effect, Jeff Mangum’s underproduced music and touching lyrics should traverse rather well to the live format. Live At Aquarius Records
is perhaps the perfect example of this phenomenon. Not his only live record (Live At Jittery Joe’s
being the more well-known of the two), but with certain tweaks and additions Live At Aquarius Records
grants Neutral Milk Hotel fans an intimate experience that isn’t without a few surprises and gifts.
Other than the lavish ITAOTS centerpiece “Oh Comely” and Holland 1945 B-side “Engine” (an absolute must-hear for any Neutral Milk Hotel fan), the remaining are either older or unreleased tracks. From the frantic ups-and-downs of “She Did A Lot of Acid” to the passionate wails on “Sailing Through,” Live At Aquarius Records
is truly a Mangum-necessity to behold. His voice comes through composed and feels very immediate. The most likable trait of the album would, without a doubt, be the previously unheard tracks like the companion song to “Oh Comely,” “Oh Sister” (quickly became a personal favorite of his repertoire) or “Rubby Bulbs.” There’s certainly a charm to the live set that’s impossible to ignore through the creaks and twinges in his relatively frail voice. It would be a bit trite to get into the age-old technicality vs. emotionality debate on this record, but I can say that Live At Aquarius Records
probably isn’t for the listener that gorges on perfect guitar riffs or grandiose vocals. Rather, it’s quite clear that Jeff Mangum isn’t the best singer to ever live. On the other hand, Live At Aquarius Records
has become a perfect testament, in my admiring eyes, to an artists’ ability to overcome a lack of technicality through the use of personality and atmosphere. On Live At Aquarius Records
, Mangum puts himself and his flaws on full display, giving the listener a resounding representation of what it would be like to hear the man up close, and all the while he seems to enjoy every chord, every second; maybe not as much as I am, though.