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Neutral Milk Hotel - On Avery Island Music Album Reviews

Each Sunday, Pitchfork takes an in-depth look at a significant album from the past, and any record not in our archives is eligible. Today, we revisit the oft-overshadowed debut from indie rock icons, a smaller and more intimate look into the mercurial world of Jeff Mangum.
In the mid-’90s, Jeff Mangum moved into a haunted closet in Denver where he had dreams of women in fur coats drinking champagne, yelling at him to get out of their house. During a snowy Colorado winter, the Louisiana-born songwriter and his childhood friend Robert Schneider set about recording what would become Neutral Milk Hotel’s debut album. They worked feverishly, going out to smoke cigarettes when they hit a roadblock, until, in May of 1995, they had a finished record. The North Carolina indie label Merge scooped up the young band and quietly released On Avery Island the following March.





2019 Toyota Avalon Review

2019 Toyota Avalon Review
The 2019 Toyota Avalon takes a hard right into sporty territory to take on rivals from Nissan and Chrysler.

The 2019 Toyota Avalon trims its sails and heads for more adventurous waters this year. The full-size sedan has sportier looks now, and most of the hardware to match.

It’s longer and lower than the outgoing version, and its superlative interior space hasn’t changed. A 9.0-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay compatibility is standard on all models, same goes for advanced safety features that few automakers have yet matched.

The Avalon earns a 7.0 on our overall scale before safety is factored in. Once those numbers come back from federal and independent testers, our score’s sure to rise.

The figure-hugging exterior telegraphs changes inside and under the skin that push the Avalon toward more athletic rivals from Nissan and Chrysler. The 2019 Avalon has a bolder look from the normally soft-sided sedan that’s been an automotive-grade sedative in prior generations.

Get past the front bumper and grille, the body sides and rear look better. The Avalon wears some of Toyota’s most daring angles to date, a tack toward sportiness that we’ve not yet reconciled with the big sedan’s history.

Inside, the Avalon tones down with gorgeous interior materials including real wood trim and a sharp, cohesive, and cozier look that doesn’t spoil the copious space.

Under the hood, most Avalons will use a V-6 gifted with a power bump to 301 horsepower this year. Shuttled through an 8-speed automatic and powering the front wheels only, the Avalon’s new engine is mildly athletic and hardly short for power.

An Avalon Hybrid returns for 2019 and features a battery-engine combo that pushes the sedan toward 43 mpg combined, according to the EPA’s calculators. Toyota charges $1,000 more for the hybrid system and it’s worth it, according to us.

All Avalons will ride atop a front strut and rear multilink suspension that tempers fussy roads. The base steel spring setup in most Avalons is very good. Top Touring sedans get as standard (optional on XSE trim levels) Toyota’s first adaptive damping suspension system that firms up responses for a sportier take. During our drives the adaptive dampers performed as advertised, but the Avalon’s push toward sport doesn’t feel entirely natural.

Its newfound performance comes with equal maturity and restraint from active safety systems, which is a good thing.

Toyota’s newest suite of active safety features is standard on all Avalon trim levels and includes adaptive cruise control, active lane control, blind-spot monitors, and forward-collision warnings with automatic emergency braking. The Avalon is loosely based from the Camry, which was an IIHS Top Safety Pick+ for 2018.

In addition to the 9.0-inch touchscreen and active safety features, all Avalons get at least 17-inch wheels, five USB ports, synthetic leather, LED headlights and taillights, and copious space.

The 2019 Avalon tacks in a sportier direction, underscored by its busy exterior that mostly succeeds.

New this year, the Avalon headed to the tailor in search of starch and pleats. It found many.

The 2019 Toyota Avalon is far from the lifeless blobs that were its predecessors, but its giant maw in XSE and Touring trims won’t win over many fans. Its exterior earns a point above average and so does its interior—in the right configurations.

The typically staid Avalon curiously wears some of Toyota’s most daring lines yet. The bodysides are stamped with sharp lines around the wheel wells and through the belt line and along its floors. It’s a more aggressive interpretation of Toyota’s current design direction than we expected; “Toyota” isn’t synonymous with “tedious” anymore.

The Avalon falls from grace up front. Its big, wide grille is punctuated in sport trims (XSE, Touring) that use a mesh grille that’s too wide, too low—too much. It doesn’t help that the mesh is broken into sections that appear to telegraph where the Lexus ES fits in.

Toyota uses LED headlights across all models. Touring trims get laser-cut units that cut through low light like a disco ball.

Around back, the sport trims wear mildly attractive decklid spoilers and progressive LED taillights that somewhat redeem the front. We see a lot of Lexus influences in the back—not that it’s a bad thing.

Inside, the Avalon dares with contrasting colors and mixed materials that include real wood trim from musical instrument-maker Yamaha. All lines lead toward the middle of the dash, which is dominated by a 9.0-inch touchscreen sitting atop a pedestal from the center console.

The seats and surfaces are more interesting than previous models, the front seats have perforated stipples and quilting that punch higher than its price tag suggests.

More powerful, and with a sporty side, the 2019 Avalon is best as a sedate, grown-up cruiser.

The 2019 Toyota Avalon wraps a new design around familiar powertrains. The full-size sedan is available with V-6 or hybrid propulsion that are mated to automatic transmissions. It’s front-wheel drive only, unlike some of its competitors.

The Avalon earns a point above average for a supple ride, which is a 6 on our performance scale.

Most Avalons will be powered by a 3.5-liter V-6 that has been uprated this year to 301 horsepower shuffled through an 8-speed automatic. The duo nets an EPA-rated 26 mpg combined in XLE trim, which is marginally more efficient than last year’s model. Other trims have larger wheels and lose 1 mpg combined across the board.

The V-6 is strong and pulls the Avalon confidently in highway passes. Sportier trims such as XSE and Limited offer intake sound composers that amp up engine noises, but we’d stop short of calling the Avalon a sports car—it’s just a better feel through the pedal.

Most cars will ride atop a standard MacPherson strut and rear multi-link suspension that damps out road imperfections well. Base XLE trims ride the softest, XSE and Limited trim levels get stiffer springs or beefier stabilizer bars for better cornering.

Touring trim levels are equipped with Toyota’s first adaptive variable suspension setup that adjusts damping and varies shock stiffness in Normal and Sport+ modes. Normal is predictably smooth, Sport+ is far firmer and changes the Avalon Touring’s behavior dramatically through heavier steering, quicker throttle response, gear changes in higher revs, and a stiffer ride. It’s Toyota’s play at where (remaining) full-size sedan customers have turned over the past few years: away from old-man luxury like the Avalon and toward spicier offerings such as the Nissan Maxima and Chrysler 300S.

It mostly works, but the Avalon’s best moves are as a sedate sedan with little intrusion into the cabin. The piped-in noises aren’t wholly satisfying—few V-6s sound good—and the sport-tuned exhaust baffles holler but don’t scream.
The Avalon’s hidden talent? A retuned electric power steering rack that’s comfortably heavy and mildly engaging. When set in Sport modes, the steering gets surprisingly heavy and firm. There’s little feedback from the road, which is common for the electric systems, but its feel is surprisingly good.

Avalon Hybrid
The Avalon Hybrid returns for 2019 and is one of the few dedicated full-size hybrid sedans on sale. It pairs a 176-hp inline-4 with electric motors and batteries for a combined output of 215 hp.

The Avalon Hybrid is rated up to 43 mpg combined, which is impressive for the big sedan. It’s predictably down on power compared to the V-6 version, but it’s adequately powered for daily duty.

The Hybrid skips the adaptive suspension for now, but new this year is a Hybrid XSE trim level that adds sporty touches to an otherwise restrained model.

Underway, the hybrid is quiet and composed and dynamically similar to the conventionally powered model. The batteries add less than 100 pounds to the hybrid’s weight compared to the non-hybrid versions and they’re tucked under the rear seats this time around, last year’s were stuffed in the trunk.

The Avalon Hybrid uses a conventional continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) that keeps the big sedan in its efficiency sweet spot. Like other CVTs, it keeps the Avalon Hybrid far from sporty—we expected that anyway.

Comfort & Quality
Quiet and comfortable, the 2019 Avalon is luxury-grade without the luxury price.

Don’t let the new, sharper shape on the outside fool you; the interior of the 2019 Toyota Avalon is smoother than drawn butter.

It was born to earn a 9 on our scale. Starting from base, the 2019 Avalon gets points for good front and rear seats, plush and friendly accommodations for all passengers, and calm demeanor.

This year’s Avalon is marginally larger than last year’s, its wheelbase is 2 inches longer. Rear seat passengers get more than 40 inches of stretch out room, long enough for the lankiest editors. Shoulder room and hip room aren’t an issue either; the Avalon boasts American-sized proportions in every direction.

Air vents, two USB ports, and available heated seats mean that rear riders probably have the best perches in the Avalon—that’s not criticism about the accommodations in front, either.

Up front, the seats are supportive and all-day comfortable and power adjustable in base versions. Long legs up front won’t cramp long legs in back, our 6-foot-3 editor had plenty of room to sit behind himself.

The Avalon’s interior ranges from contemporary to borderline brash. Small shifts in Toyota’s color palette push the Avalon past black and beige swatches inside; a cognac leather interior with stipples and quilting in Avalon Limited trim levels echoes a wingtip oxford—if you’re into that sort of thing.

The Avalon sports a comfortable mix of materials, including leather, synthetic leather, or synthetic suede, with soft surfaces on most touchable places. A elegantly grained wood trim from musical instrument-maker Yamaha is available on Limited trim levels that looks the jazz. Sportier trims get metallic accents that are eye-catching—especially in bright sunlight.

The large, 9.0-inch touchscreen dominates attention in the center of the car. It floats above the dash, canted slightly toward the driver, and is flanked by redundant buttons for menu, navigation, map, and other controls. The infotainment pillar has one unfortunate consequence: it creates a small dead space behind the shifter, where the wireless cellphone charger is buried in a tray with a sliding cover.

The tray is ideal for storing a cellphone, but only if it’s equipped to charge wirelessly. Otherwise it’s best to keep change and small items socked away in the center console and doors.

The Avalon’s trunk opens to swallow more than 16 cubic feet of cargo, wide enough for golf bags to easily fit. Cargo space is identical in the Avalon and Avalon Hybrid after Toyota moved the hybrid’s batteries from the trunk to under the rear seats.

The 2019 Toyota Avalon is too new to be ruined in a test.

The paint is too new on the 2019 Toyota Avalon for federal and independent testers to turn it into crumpled metal and broken glass. Once they do, we’ll update our score here. 

Absent official safety data, there are encouraging signs.

The Avalon is closely related to the Toyota Camry, which nearly aced the federal and IIHS crash batteries, and improves on its standard active safety equipment.

Every Avalon is equipped with forward-collision warning with automatic emergency braking, active lane control, blind-spot monitors, adaptive cruise control, a rearview camera, and emergency assistance (with a three-year trial subscription included) that can notify first responders in a crash, track a stolen Avalon, or call for help to fix a stranded car.

Should one—or all—of those active features fail, the Avalon is equipped with 10 airbags, traction and stability control systems, and front and rear crumple zones to protect passengers.

All 2019 Toyota Avalons are generously equipped from the factory with good features; its sportier intentions don’t completely convince us.

Value-minded shoppers already know that sedans like the Toyota Avalon are better deals than crossovers. For $36,395, the 2019 Toyota Avalon XLE is equipped with 17-inch wheels, a moonroof, synthetic leather upholstery, a 7.0-inch driver information display, five USB ports, power features, active safety systems (covered above), and a 9.0-inch touchscreen for infotainment with Apple CarPlay compatibility and Bluetooth connectivity.

That’s good basic equipment and good value for the long-legged sedan. Unlike luxury brands, Toyota doesn’t make available many spend-up options outside of the Avalon’s trim levels— luxury-minded XLE and Limited, or sport-sided XSE and Touring. We rate the Avalon an 8 for features. 

Fully loaded Avalon Touring models cost $43,095 and offer premium audio from JBL, navigation, synthetic leather upholstery with suede inserts, a heated steering wheel, heated and cooled front seats, heated rear seats, a head-up display, 19-inch wheels, and adaptive dampers. It’s a luxury car without the badge—or the inflated price—but we stop short of making it our best pick on the lot.

Avalon Touring models aren’t available with hybrid powertrains, which cost $1,000 above gas-powered XLE, XSE, and Limited versions. That’s a small spend for much better fuel economy.

Touring models also are equipped with a sport tuned exhaust and engine intake sound composer that doesn’t make the Avalon faster, just needlessly louder.

Our sweet spot is the Limited trim level that starts at $42,695 ($43,695 for the Hybrid Limited) and features real wood inside, 18-inch wheels, JBL premium audio, heated and cooled front seats, heated rear seats, leather upholstery, and less aggressive bodywork that fits with the Avalon’s mission.

We wouldn’t begrudge shoppers from opting for base trims either.

Fuel Economy
Most Avalons will get middle-of-the-road fuel economy; hybrid versions are far more frugal.

The 2019 Toyota Avalon has a sleeker shape that cuts a smaller hole in the wind, but it’s not much more fuel-efficient than last year’s model.

Its V-6 is EPA-rated at 22 mpg city, 32 highway, 26 combined for XLE versions.

Other trim levels with bigger wheels are rated lower: 22/31/25 mpg.

There’s good news for efficiency-focused shoppers. Hybrid versions of the Avalon are rated around 43/43/43 mpg and cost $1,000 more than their conventionally powered counterparts.

Most shoppers should recoup that cost at the pump within a few years of ownership, depending on local gas prices and driving conditions.

Other rivals are rated within earshot of the Avalon. The Nissan Maxima is rated at 21/30/25 mpg, and the Buick LaCrosse mild hybrid is rated at 25/35/29 mpg.



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