Neutral Milk Hotel: “The King of Carrot Flowers Pt. One”
Time for yet another in the seemingly inexhaustible list of great songs from bands forming the so-called Elephant 6 Collective. I knew you couldn’t wait, so.
And it’s a great one, folks, let me tell you. Or you can tell me. It’s “The King of Carrot Flowers Pt. One,” by Neutral Milk Hotel, from their 1998 masterpiece, In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, an album chosen by Amazon.com’s music editors as #2 on its list of greatest indie rock albums of all time. And I have little choice but to concur, at least insofar as it’s in the Top 10.
Neutral Milk Hotel in essence was Jeff Mangum (who, I have to mention, I’ll be seeing — under his own name — in Seattle in April . . . should be interesting!). Mangum was a co-founder of Olivia Tremor Control, and on this album he was abetted by Robert Schneider (leader of the Apples in Stereo), who produced the album. In the Aeroplane Over the Sea is full of unexpected sounds and directions, but it all coheres into one awe-inspiring whole — if it doesn’t hit you the first time, repeated listenings will reveal its depths. It certainly feels like a concept album, although what the concept is, I couldn’t really tell you, as it’s all pretty abstract. “The King of Carrot Flowers Pt. One” (yes, there’s also a “Pts. Two & Three” — a single song — but it sounds totally different) is among the more straightforward songs on the album, with lyrics that are fairly easy to get your head around. Toward the end it brings in a bit of odd instrumentation that begins to give the listener an idea of what lays ahead on Aeroplane. But for my money it’s the crisply recorded acoustic guitar strum that makes this song so great; although acoustic guitar doesn’t usually beg to have the volume cranked, trust me when I say that this song needs to be turned up loud to fully appreciate how great the guitar sounds. It almost feels as though you’re inside the guitar, although admittedly I don’t have any actual experience with that to prove it.