Hearing Neutral Milk Hotel via audiophile-quality vinylfor the first time will be a triumphant yet defeating moment. Why? Because the band's sad notes will strike louder than ever before, and every wailing horn will remind us that Elephant 6 offspring is gone, perhaps never to return.
Neutral Milk Hotel created a legacy with just two full-length albums, its second released more than a decade ago. Yet when it stopped at a mature peak with In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, the appreciation for the band's literate, wistful chanties (and not to mention, one of the Best Worst Voices in Indie Rock) continues to grow. This shows in the increasing number of Neutral Milk Hotel covers, some of which will surely help us grieve our loss:
"Oh Comely" - Brand New's Jesse Lacey
No emo vocalist but Lacey would even dare to approach this song, let alone attempt to hit every harrowing nuance that Jeff Mangum's voice created.
"Holland, 1945" - Kevin Devine, Manchester Orchestra and Brand New
Devine himself has performed this song on stage for years. His tempo and energy usually lend to pretty faithful renditions, though he often substitutes horns for plenty of friends. And with Manchester Orchestra, Brand New, one marching drum and two tambourines, he makes this cover even more fun.
"Song Against Sex" - Frightened Rabbit's Scott Hutchison
Mangum first wrote the On Avery Island original as a rocking, boisterous recanting and ranting of how physical connections eventually distort the emotional ones. Hutchison's acoustic take is more heartfelt, though his wails and vocal pacing remain true to the original.
"In the Aeroplane Over the Sea" - Fanfarlo
The London sextet initially caught our attention as a Beirut-Arcade Fire hybrid, as its debut Reservoir offers chamber-pop melodies that tiptoe, swell and race. However, the charm in Fanfarlo's cover stems from notes of percussion, not to mention Simon Balthazer's voice and its striking resemblance to Mangum's.
"Two-Headed Boy" - The Mountain Goats
"Two-Headed Boy" is Neutral Milk Hotel at its simplest and most powerful, and as is, its original composition seems untouchable. But The Mountain Goats make it their own with ease, by adding an additional harmonica melody and substituting unrelenting chords for the accented beats of "Sax Rohmer, Pt. 1." And with John Darnielle's voice carrying the same weight that Mangum's did, both Neutral Milk Hotel and Mountain Goats fans alike will find the cover's charm familiar.
Listen to The Mountain Goats cover of "Two Headed Boy."