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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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Leif - Loom Dream Music Album Reviews

A dreamy, bucolic ambient LP, full of lush textures and birdsong, along with a number of other pleasant surprises.

Baskerville Hall, a country hotel built in 1839 in the Welsh village of Clyro, is known for a few things. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, author of Hound of the Baskervilles, was a frequent guest at the inn. Paranormal enthusiasts believe the place is haunted. And every summer, it hosts Freerotation, a beloved, members-only affair where the hippie ethos of the 1990s free-party rave scene meets cutting-edge electronic music. Resident Advisor’s Will Lynch called it “600 friends knocking around a weird old hotel for three days—it feels more like a massive sleepover than a festival.” Leif Knowles has been playing Freerotation for years now, and his DJ sets there have become legendary for their range, their risk-taking, and their bucolic scene-setting, providing a fitting counterpart to the rolling green hills and rural idyll. With Loom Dream, he captures that spirit on vinyl.


Leif, as he is known, has been putting out records since the early 2000s, his style gradually evolving from pert minimal house to freaky, futuristic bass music. Loom Dream is his third album, but it is his first ambient full-length—never mind that Whities, the label putting it out, is itself better known for forward-looking bass mutations. Just 34 minutes long, Loom Dream is the kind of mini-LP that is particularly suited to a certain, evocative strain of ambient music: not too short, not too long, but a Goldilocks-like, just-right length for catnapping and coming back up for air.

Loom Dream’s tracklisting comprises six songs, but really the record plays out as a single suite of music, the tracks seamlessly joined by chirping birds, footfalls, and creamy swirls of reverb. Leif’s choice of sounds is faithful to the chill out room aesthetic that artists like Mixmaster Morris and the Orb pioneered in the late 1980s: Synthesizers waft through gentle delay chains while field recordings suggest a sense of place and submerged rhythms generate the subtlest forward motion. The record follows a loose botanical theme—its six tracks take their titles from plants and herbs like yarrow, borago, and myrtle—and between the omnipresent birdsong and lush textures, it’s easy to imagine that Loom Dream would make a lovely soundtrack to a supine half-hour in a sun-warmed glade.

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But Loom Dream can also be surprisingly (and impressively) intense. Leif’s pastel atmospheres frequently give way to deep, chest-quaking drums: layer upon layer of thrumming hand percussion, sub-bass rumble, and sampled kit. “Myrtus” is driven by quick, trilling marimba melodies, and in “Rosa,” faintly distorted thumb piano takes the lead. In “Borago,” pummeling floor toms accompany echoing blasts of choral voices, creating a mood that’s both stormy and majestic.

Leif’s rhythmic instincts don’t just keep the music moving, they keep the vibe in constant flux, as time signatures shift and tempos vary. This dynamism helps set Loom Dream apart from its ambient contemporaries. Much like Brian Eno envisioned of ambient music, it is an emotional blank slate—the mood he evokes may be blissful, wistful, or simply serene, depending upon the listener’s headspace—but the constantly shifting grooves keep the record’s limited palette from getting stale. At the record’s end, he switches things up one more time: Over gossamer new-age chords, a steady drumbeat kicks up little clouds of dust that gradually swell into piercing dub-delay feedback; by the end, the sound is a strobing shriek, almost like a car alarm. It’s a suggestion, maybe, that rural idyll can’t last forever. Or maybe it’s just an appearance from one of Baskerville Hall’s ghosts.


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