An Ugly Album Review

What Music Speaks, part six

Tracy Lynne Oliver
Gay Mag
Published in
5 min readAug 13, 2019


Illustration by Louisa Bertman

TThe smell of gasoline or fresh horse manure, the burned edges of pooled chicken grease on a hot sheet pan, cystic acne popping videos, James Gandolfini, old cemeteries, algae covered ponds, amateur gangbang porn: some of my favorite things are not commonly meant to be loved or found desirable. I’ve seen homely babies being loved by their mothers. I know a man who is enamored of spiders. Many people enjoy Kombucha. There is room in this world for all kinds of adoration.

Neutral Milk Hotel is a band fronted by singer/songwriter Jeff Mangum. It was popular in the late 80’s. I discovered them twenty years later.

One definition of discord is “and inharmonious combination of musical tones sounded together.” Another definition could very well be, “the music of Neutral Milk Hotel.”

By all accounts, nobody should enjoy this music. But this statement is untrue because I believe everyone should enjoy this music. Their best-known album, In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, is an endless collapse of shelving inside a junk store on top of a variety of animals who then commence an agonizing death and it is one of the most beautiful albums I’ve ever heard.

When I found Aeroplane, I literally listened to nothing else for a span of five months, much to the dismay of my family. One of my children — a young teenager at the time — told me it sounded like dolphins dying. I couldn’t argue.

I listened anyway.

TThere are eleven tracks on this album; all of them beautifully ugly. King of Carrot Flowers Part One is one of the more palatable scores but its follow up; King of Carrot Flowers Parts Two and Three (one song) is completely insane; starting out with a plaintive, prayer-like pleading wail and then devolving into a shouting, cacophonous, relentless punk thunder. But yet, lovely in its raging. The other twinned songs on the album are Two-Headed Boy and Two-Headed Boy Part Two; both songs dreamy, visceral, poetic renderings. The first gives us a rushed guitar and the worst singing I’ve ever fell in love with. It has a fast pacing that ends quiet, finishing with a melodious chanting. The second starts with an accordion or perhaps a singing saw, or zanzithophone or a banjo played with not a pick but a bow. (There are a…