‘Everything Is’ an odd and complicated surprise

Paul Becker, Staff Writer

To be frank, “Everything Is,” the extended version of Neutral Milk Hotel’s 1995 debut EP of the same name, has been very difficult to comprehend and write about. But I do not mean its aesthetic or musical prowess, though very oblique, but its meaning, its story and its decisions backed by permanent member and leader Jeff Mangum. Other reviewers of the album have blatantly stated that “[Mangum] simply hasn’t found his voice yet” and that he has only begun the path of revitalizing his conceptual understandings through this art form. Given that “Everything Is” was primarily written and recorded by Mangum alone, a full grasp of structure and functionality may only be beginning to emerge and blossom. Questions have been raised, such as “is this merely an experimental album?” or “fun in the studio?”
Released on Feb. 1 of this year, “Everything Is” contains a fully remastered soundtrack of the original, with the previously unreleased demos of “Unborn” and “Here We Are (For W. Cullen Hart)” as a bonus. And more than anything, it is simply a recollection and reissue of the 1995 work with an added dive to the depths of Neutral Milk’s archival setlist.
It begins with the introduction of the title track with a voiceover fragment of Mangum conversing with a kid who had dressed as a punk rocker; but more noticeably, it brings along a seemingly detached tone. As if Mangum was across the room from the microphone and belting, his voice is drowned out by guitars that resemble distorted Bubble Wrap. “Snow Song” is similar regarding out-of-tune instrument use, but Mangum’s voice drones clearer with a twinge of melancholy— “Cindy, won’t you smile? Cindy, won’t you sleep a while?” The duet of demos “Unborn” and “Here We Are (For W. Cullen Hart),” a gentle nod to pop musician and founder of Elephant 6 Recording Company, offer a lovely card and alternative route of near quietude. And if compared to the remaining album, these two are stand-alone red hydrants in a busy gray utopia.
“Ruby Bulbs” and “Aunt Eggma Blow Torch” are a select couple of Mangum and Neutral Milk’s sound-collage pieces that reach into the listeners’ hearts and rip free in a frenzy of wires and tubes. In the highest honor, these are harrowing pieces, unsettling and confusing. But this tells us of Neutral Milk’s occult sound and aesthetic with explicit detail.
Finally, do I recommend this EP to you, reader? Yes, though I advise you to proceed with caution due to the fact of oddity and cult classic. However, to make things much simpler, I would lean more toward the suggestion that a listen to 1998’s “In the Aeroplane over the Sea” would be a fantastic entrance into the entirety of Neutral Milk’s discography.