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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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Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds - Black Star Dancing EP Music Album Reviews

On his new EP, Noel Gallagher breaks free—a little—from his six-string to embrace the Big Beat of his youth.

For a guy whose rock’n’roll values skew so traditional his name is practically a synonym for Dad Rock, Noel Gallagher has long harbored a desire to break free from his six-string. Black Star Dancing—an EP named after a single he released in early May—arrives accompanied by a self-generated torrent of hype that climaxed with Noel claiming Nile Rodgers “literally danced in the studio” when he heard the song.


These proclamations suggest the EP offers something new, but the truth is Gallagher has always dabbled in dance culture. He came of age during the glory days of Baggy, the heady time when rock, dance, and electronica came together as one during the paisley-pulsating fever dream dubbed the second summer of love. The earliest Oasis records were smothered in loud guitars, but Gallagher’s magpie songwriting wasn’t far removed from the sampledelica of hip-hop and acid house at the dawn of the ’90s. Once he became a superstar, he happily collaborated with the Chemical Brothers for “Setting Sun,” a 1997 hit that pulverized the Beatles’ “Tomorrow Never Knows” through a Big Beat filter.

From there, Gallagher tentatively threaded drum loops and extraneous electronica onto Oasis albums, a process he continued with Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds, the group he formed in 2011 once he finally had his fill of navigating the id of his brother Liam. Until 2017’s Who Built the Moon?, Noel generally kept these diversions reserved for remixes, B-sides and bonus tracks, but that record leaned into colorful cacophony constructed in equal parts from psychedelia and memories of late club nights long gone.

Black Star Dancing doesn’t depart from the previous High Flying Birds records so much as pick up threads left dangling from Who Built the Moon? while pushing ideas Gallagher usually left in the shadows right into the spotlight. It’s a canny reframing that helps banish lingering memories of High Flying Birds’ tastefully somnolent first few records, but it's hard to call “Black Star Dancing”—either in its original incarnation or its two extended remixes or its accompanying pair of B-sides—“fresh.”

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All three versions groove to retro rhythms that are throwbacks to throwbacks: the spangly ’70s filtered through the ecstasy of the early ’90s. The two variations—a succinct 12" mix and a “Reflex Revision” that sprawls amiably for 10 minutes—expand upon ideas already fully formed on the original single. Perhaps “Rattling Rose” and “Sail On”—the former a breezy bit of good vibes with a vaguely spacey undercurrent, the latter an ornate campfire sing along—don’t burst as brightly as “Black Star Dancing,” but by using the dance rhythms and electronics as accents, Gallagher winds up showcasing his melodic craft more appealingly than when he’s dolefully strumming an acoustic guitar.

Granted, every bit of Black Star Dancing telegraphs how Noel Gallagher isn’t in step with his times. It’s psychedelic music made by a rocker who straightened out ages ago, dance music made by a musician who hasn't set foot in a club in at least 20 years. But that flaw is also ingratiating: Gallagher retains his ear for sturdy melodies and his instinct for swiping ear-catching sounds and conscripting them to his humble purposes. As he always does, Gallagher stitches these elements into familiar and comfortable tapestries.


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