There’s still time to nominate local icons for Best of D.C.
Jeff Mangum constructs his voice from tiny screeches that collect in his nose, build up pressure, and shoot a scratchy whine out his piehole. The leader of Neutral Milk Hotel probably couldn’t win a spot in a chorus, but Mangum’s distinctive wail is the perfect complement to his homespun brand of lo-fi folk rock. In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, Neutral Milk Hotel’s second CD, is a rollicking collection of tales that have the distinction of being both enigmatic and universal. The first track, “The King of Carrot Flowers Pt. One,” begins with Mangum crisply strumming an acoustic guitar and bellowing the huh?-inducing lines “When you were young you were the king of carrot flowers/And how you built a tower tumbling thru the trees/In holy rattlesnakes that fell around your feet.” Then, immediately, the song shifts from such lyrical psychedelia to the concrete imagery of “And your mom would stick a fork right into daddy’s shoulder/And you dad would throw garbage across the floor/As we would lay and learn what each others’ bodies were for.” Musically, Neutral Milk Hotel shifts from barren, sea-chantey waltzes like the title track to overdriven fuzz-rockers like “Holland, 1945,” as Mangum pushes each song to some satisfying extreme for his far-reaching muse. Like Mangum’s voice, In the Aeroplane Over the Sea may not be very polished, but it is already one of its best recordings of this young year. Neutral Milk Hotel checks into town with labelmates Superchunk at 9:30 p.m. Saturday at the Black Cat, 1831 14th St. NW. $8. (202) 667-7960. (Christopher Porter)