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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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Nonlocal Forecast - Bubble Universe! Music Album Reviews

A new project from the Chicago vaporwave maven eases off the aggression of her Fire-Toolz alias, finding new inspiration in the clash of new age, smooth jazz, prog rock, and video-game soundtracks.

Chicago multi-instrumentalist Angel Marcloid has become one of vaporwave's most fearless daredevils, merging seemingly incompatible sounds into mutant fusions that push the genre to new places while maintaining its taste-eradicating post-internet power. She did this first under a gang of pseudonyms, often on her pioneering labels Rainbow Bridge and Swamp Circle, but hit a bullseye with Fire-Toolz, a potent cocktail of dazed Muzak, noise, and happy hardcore spiced with the occasional hissed black-metal vocal. After refining that project with two albums on Hausu Mountain, another Chicago haven for the weird and wonderful, Marcloid returns as Nonlocal Forecast with Bubble Universe!, a new project inverting Fire-Toolz’s crackling aggression with the help of aquatic new-age synths, smooth jazz, and prog rock.

As Fire-Toolz, Marcloid made her knack for impossible genre combinations feel like a rollercoaster, but Nonlocal Forecast subtly accomplishes a harder task. It flies through ideas but builds track by track with purposeful progression, and it only gets better once the initial thrills wear off and you learn its trajectory. With Bubble Universe!, Marcloid spreads her ideas out like a rainbow, encapsulating everything in a seamless spectrum from hot to cool. It’s a perfect introduction to what already feels like her best project.

Bubble Universe! explodes with gleefully clashing ideas from the start, opening with dramatic synth flourishes and dizzying drum patterns on “Celestial Nervous System,” a tightrope walk between jazzy prog and proggy jazz. Though Marcloid is programming drums on a computer rather than playing live, her background as a prog-rock drummer translates to fills that feel both spontaneous and mathematically dazzling. The result hijacks the soothing soundtrack of the Weather Channel and charges it with metal’s cathartic energy, a combination that only grows on the following “Planck Lengths,” which echoes the ornate MIDI symphonies of James Ferraro’s vaporwave blueprint Far Side Virtual before a sprawling drum solo takes it to light speed.

By the third song, the brightly emotive burst of “Cloud-Hidden,” Bubble Universe! has crystallized this sound so fully that it feels natural when Marcloid largely leaves it behind for the rest of the album. “The Direct Path” slams the brakes with a spacious synth melody and a luxurious guitar solo that only grows softer and sweeter as it lands on delicate percussion far removed from the opening tracks’ energy. On “Triangle Format,” Marcloid’s Fire-Toolz moniker makes a featured appearance, but here she eschews that project’s metal vocals in favor of a rush of synths and distant coos that carry Nonlocal Forecast into its contrasting second half.

Drifting further from the metal influences sparking the album’s early tracks, “The Evolutionary Game” and “Classical Information” shine like some of the most distinct video-game music of the 1990s. The former rides a simple 4/4 beat with twinkling synths and a middle section that nods to David Wise’s naturalistic soundscapes in Donkey Kong Country, while the latter’s jazzy MIDI lines and funky bass synths create a kind of synesthestic accompaniment for imaginary Sonic the Hedgehog levels. It all leads to a closing trio of tracks as soothing and ambient as the beginning was kinetic. They make a powerful bookend for Bubble Universe!’s impressive range and focus, as well as a welcome invitation to hit replay and start the game all over again.




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