Neutral Milk Hotel
Ferris Wheel on Fire


3.0
good

Review

by Sean H. CONTRIBUTOR (103 Reviews)
June 6th, 2017 | 27 replies


Release Date: 2011 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Sadly, this doesn't reach that bar set by Jeff Mangum's crowning achievement. Despite this, Ferris Wheel On Fire is still worth a listen for Neutral Milk Hotel fans.

I think many people can agree that In The Aeroplane Over The Sea, the landmark release from Neutral Milk Hotel, is a striking piece of art that is drenched in subtle shades of sadness, despite it's catchy and relaxing melodies. An album that influenced so many folk rock bands and left an impression on many listeners must be a masterwork, but it always seemed less like a planed out magnum opus and much more of a piece of accidental genius. Jeff Mangum, who is the main mind behind the project, and company never exuded a masterpiece attitude in the music, nor was this intended to be a monolithic and genre defining album, like it was. Even before this, Neutral Milk Hotel was making experimental indie music that pales in comparison to their greatest achievement. But, when you peak with an album that is nearly perfect, what else is there to do" Do you keep making the same kind of music" Do you try something fresh and new, in hopes that you achieve the same amount of greatness of your previous release" Do you accept that you may never be able to reach that high again"

If your name is Jeff Mangum and you are in a band named Neutral Milk Hotel, you became disheartened by the demands of being a band that was starting to gain a modest buzz in the music scene and, in an understandable panic, decided to disband the group in 1999. And, for a long time, the world only had a few Neutral Milk Hotel releases to enjoy and In The Aeroplane Over The Sea became an even bigger hit with time and reached a high none of the band members probably even expected. The group left their fans with near complete radio silence, besides some interviews, some collaborations, and announcements of new music that did not go anywhere. This was until, in the last few days of 2011, a Neutral Milk Hotel box set was released. Among this collection was a new EP, titled Ferris Wheel on Fire, contains previously unreleased songs and other oddities.

All together, these songs take a much more stripped back approach to the song structure. Mangum goes into this EP almost alone and being armed with, for the most part, his voice and his acoustic guitar only. The music performed here is still as melodic as what was shown in their seminal work, but it's simplistic arrangements work against it, with the majority of the compilation feeling slightly empty and void of atmosphere that would add to the sorrowful or aggressive emotions that Mangum is always known for portraying. While the moniker has used this in their previous works, it was always used as a tool, not the default. This being said, his stark and off-kilter singing is just as emotional and harrowing as it always is, even on the weaker portions of early Neutral Milk Hotel works. The acoustic guitar playing, for what it is, is well written and packed full of charm and saddening energy. Mangum proves to us that he does know his way around a simplistic melody, even if the lack of anything else leaves much to be desired. This lack of atmosphere is made obvious by the production, which only highlights how these engaging sounds and striking, simplistic arrangements are unfortunately isolated and lonesome. This EP is also quite lightweight when it comes to the production, which makes the music much less attention grabbing, barring the last song. My Dreamgirl Don't Exist, which is said last song, is a live track that has the raw sound one would expect from a recording of this nature. While the roughness of this song is understandable and this song is one of the strongest tracks, this jump in recording quality is jarring to the listener and feels like the wrong decision for both the song and the EP.

Potential for an amazing work of art is here, but too much falls in the way of reaching that bar that Mangum unintentionally set for himself in 1998. With a few tweaks, a more full sound, and some more strong content, this could have been a truly worthy successor to the great work they became famous for. This merely feels like a blueprint that desperately needs more work to get past that rough draft feel. That said, this is still worth at least one listen if you enjoy the works of Mangum and his moniker and want to hear more of what people came to love on In The Aeroplane Over The Sea. It's far from a bad release and is bleeding with the earnest charm that fans expect. It does seem like we will never get another fully fleshed out release that will live up to the name’s masterpiece, as the last thing the band, as in the lineup from Aeroplane, has done is go on tour in 2013. This means that Mangum's emotional vision that was put into these songs will only stay decent, rather than reach that potential they have.



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user ratings (207)
Chart.
3.9
excellent

Comments:Add a Comment 
Bloon
Contributing Reviewer
June 6th 2017


2564 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

Stream the EP here: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=1WeO5Fl8G8s

Digging: Various Artists - Dope-Guns-'n-Fucking in the Streets: Volumes 1-3

ZippaThaRippa
June 6th 2017


10480 Comments


You have like 3 gigantic paragraphs of introduction. Absolutely no one is going to listen to this that doesn't already know the story of Jeff Magnum

Bloon
Contributing Reviewer
June 6th 2017


2564 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

Tbf, I heard this before knowing all this stuff and I felt like this information was good to have fresh in mind. I get what you are saying, though.

EphemeralEternity
June 6th 2017


3232 Comments


These walls scare me

ZippaThaRippa
June 6th 2017


10480 Comments


They're in the walls!

EphemeralEternity
June 6th 2017


3232 Comments


I'll read it after I'm trying to finish a project and (conveniently) none of my messages are sending on discord despite being able to see yours. This must be how vegetables feel 24/7

ZippaThaRippa
June 6th 2017


10480 Comments


Only Balls would take time out of his project time to tell you that he doesn't have time to read your review because he's working on a project

EphemeralEternity
June 6th 2017


3232 Comments


And also wait around for zips snarky response

Bloon
Contributing Reviewer
June 6th 2017


2564 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

Please never change, Zip.

TVC15
June 6th 2017


9896 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5 | Sound Off

Huh

Digging: Dexys Midnight Runners - Too-Rye-Ay

Drifter
June 6th 2017


15327 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Whack. Ass. Rating

Archelirion
June 6th 2017


5650 Comments


It's well written fella, so pos'd, but yeah there's waaaaay too much introduction before you actually get to the album itself.

And Balls is dropping some specialist procrastination techniques there. Takes ages to learn doing that as effectively as he.

Bloon
Contributing Reviewer
June 6th 2017


2564 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

lol. I'll try to cut out some of the introduction then. Thanks for the constructive criticism.

EphemeralEternity
June 6th 2017


3232 Comments


thank you, Arch. Actually I've been meaning to write my comprehensive procrastination guide for a while now. I'll keep you posted.

zaruyache
June 6th 2017


20542 Comments


Huh how'd this not have a review?

SandwichBubble
June 6th 2017


9445 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Yeah, about time this got one.



I should relisten to this

Digging: R. Stevie Moore - Children's Museum

Veldin
June 6th 2017


3804 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Love this album

Drifter
June 6th 2017


15327 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

[2]

ZippaThaRippa
June 7th 2017


10480 Comments


"Actually I've been meaning to write my comprehensive procrastination guide for a while now"

kek

butcherboy
June 7th 2017


9464 Comments


good review and correct rating (for just about evey NMH album..)



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