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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.

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Jayda G - Significant Changes Music Album Reviews

The Canadian DJ, producer, and environmental toxicologist bridges worlds on her debut album, weaving orcas’ songs and conservationist messages into deep-diving tracks aimed at inclusive dancefloors.

Jayda Guy’s academic work and musical output have a common goal: Both are designed to make people to think about how they interact with their environments. The Canadian musician presented her master’s thesis about the effects of certain chemicals on an endangered West Coast orca species last year, and she recently started a talk series featuring young scientists. As Jayda G, she’s been responsible for some of the most rapturous disco house to come out of the “Canadian Riviera” scene, and she has captivated crowds worldwide with her uninhibited DJ style. Let other selectors squabble about sharing track IDs and unwarranted wheel-ups—she’d rather concentrate on providing the soundtrack for cathartic, electronic device-free boogieing.


Following a string of excellent EPs and singles on labels including 1080p, Geography Records, and her own JMG Recordings, Significant Changes is the Berlin-based producer’s debut album. Like much of Guy’s previous work, the nine tracks here draw on influences including Chicago house, soul, disco, and 1990s R&B, but her references to the natural world this time around are more overt. Recorded while she was finishing her studies, its bookending intro (“Unifying the Center (Abstract)”) and outro (“Conclusion”) read like parts of a scientific paper; it’s not surprising that there’s a sense of ecological urgency underpinning many of these songs.

In interviews, Guy has frequently expressed her desire to bridge her two passions, and one way she achieves this is by turning field recordings into unexpectedly poignant melodies. The instrumental centerpiece “Orca’s Reprise” is built around the marine mammals’ cries, but the producer smartly avoids new-age chintziness. “Missy Knows What’s Up” takes the concept one step further, sampling the ominous words of Canadian biologist Misty MacDuffee (“Why are these whales threatened and what are we going to do about it?”), and setting them to a thumping backbone.

It’s not all doom and gloom, however, and Guy expertly balances the record’s more somber offerings with a handful of four-on-the-floor, heat-seeking anthems. If you’ve seen her play at a festival or listened to one of her decade-hopping radio mixes, then you know that, as a DJ, she prioritizes songs that exude a certain timelessness, rather than trying to score cool points for obscurity. From War’s 1971 funk hit “Slippin’ Into Darkness” to TLC’s “Creep,” she’s constantly thinking about what will elicit the biggest head-bobbing, limb-pumping responses from her audiences. Frequent collaborator Alexa Dash appears on two euphoric tracks, “Sunshine in the Valley” and “Leave Room 2 Breathe,” and her soulful, husky croon perfectly complements Guy’s shuffling grooves, vintage drum-machine sounds, and, on the latter, roller-rink cowbell.

Yet on an album that’s full of human and animal voices alike, the most prominent one is her own. Guy’s arresting spoken-word vocals take center stage on “Stanley’s Get Down (No Parking on the DF)” and “Move to the Front (Disco Mix),” both of which address dancefloor etiquette over propulsive basslines and warm strings. “I see you with your phone looking at Instagram,” she playfully admonishes on the former, while the latter is a rousing call to arms to ladies “all the way in the back,” which sees the producer doing her best Body Break host impression. As if to remind listeners that it’s not so serious, she punctuates these instructions with gleeful whoops.

According to Guy, the album’s title has a twofold meaning. Not only was it the most-used phrase in her thesis, but it also refers to the personal and artistic changes she’s experienced in recent years, as she’s moved halfway across the world and played shows even further afield. Her ever-growing platform to reach people, she says, brings certain responsibilities, whether it’s reducing her carbon footprint or helping create more diverse and inclusive learning and dancing spaces. Like all the best teachers, she’s leading by example.



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