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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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Pelican - Nighttime Stories Music Album Reviews

The instrumental metal quartet’s first album in six years grapples directly with loss and grief, channeling dueling guitars and pummeling rhythms into a dire, haunted sound.

Nighttime Stories is Pelican’s adult album, a direct confrontation with those existential milestones their music once merely suggested through its tension and scope. Family, grief, distance—all are now active components in their songs. The four members of the instrumental metal band are split between their native Chicago and Los Angeles, so they had to schedule blocks of time to hammer out new material together in person. Between sessions, they communicated through a Dropbox folder of fragments and jams and stray recordings from phones—the creative equivalent of a group text with old friends, where you reminisce and make plans that may never actually happen. It’s been six years since the band’s last album, Forever Becoming, and you sense that it’s all been something of a blur.


But if growing up is often a process of coming down, then Pelican are still focused on finding transcendence in subtle places. Their music has always thrived on patience—a virtue that makes aging gracefully feel like a seamless evolution. The benchmark of their current sound is the warring, restless interplay of guitarists Trevor Shelley de Brauw and Dallas Thomas, whose soaring fretwork conveys the emotional candor that most metal acts seek from their vocalists. On Nighttime Stories, they push each other toward aggressive textures they had abandoned after their earliest material. They’re accompanied by blast beats and pummeling rhythms, and they alternate between ragged solos and riffs that sound like they’ve been dragged from the lowest depths of sludge and doom metal. Through sheer volume or atmospheric intensity, it’s the sound of making up for lost time.

Other songs absorb the quiet into their songwriting, lending their music a depth that feels haunted but dire. After an initial burst of songs characterized by concise, melodic crescendos, “It Stared at Me” arrives as a tangled bed of mood music, its spacious arrangement like the scene setting to a violent Western. When a slide guitar winds through the song’s final minute, it ushers in the record’s adventurous second half. The title track staggers and lurches toward a mid-song breakdown that searches for stability but only slips into further chaos. And while the epic “Full Moon, Black Water” embodies the longform template of their previous centerpieces, its gentle finale feels uncommonly emotional. It leads to a closing track, “Darkness,” that expresses its title not through bleak austerity but with relentless overdrive.

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Nighttime Stories plays like one seamless expression—its 50-minute runtime passes remarkably quickly—but it’s a statement heavy with meaning and memories. Jody Minnoch, a bandmate of Shelley de Brauw and drummer Larry Herweg in the band Tusk, died unexpectedly in 2014, and the album’s title was one of his last ideas. The low, mournful opening track, “WST,” features Thomas strumming an acoustic guitar that once belonged to his late father. These are specific tributes, but the whole record carries an unspoken aura of necessity. That their narratives proceed without lyrics only underpins the poignancy of their message—those implicit connections that go unspoken, the expressions that can be read only by people with an intimate understanding of one another. These relationships do not come easy and, if nurtured and maintained, will only intensify with time.


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