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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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Redbait - Cages Music Album Reviews

The St. Louis metalpunks put their politics at the forefront of their music—except they’ve also got riffs, and they can write the hell out of a catchy, confrontational punk song.

Punk has a long tradition of political soapboxing, whether an anti-Reagan screed or a howling demand for trans rights thinly cloaked behind a veil of distortion and d-beats. St. Louis metalpunk outfit Redbait, however, put their politics at the forefront of their music. They approach every note and syllable with unwavering intention, down to their self-identification as “proletarian crust” and the name “Redbait” itself—a thumbed nose to the right wing’s long history of smearing leftists.


The idea for Redbait germinated not at a basement show or a bar, like so many other notable punk acts, but as their press materials note, at the “healthcare rallies, vegan potlucks, and protests against police brutality” where these six musicians initially got acquainted. The band’s members—vocalists Rebecca Redbait and Madeline B., guitarists Will J. and B., bassist Nicholas J., and drummer Cody A.—came up in the St. Louis activist community, and they apply that knowledge and praxis to their music. In a way, Redbait follow the lo-fi Crass model of politics—except they’ve also got riffs, and they can write the hell out of a catchy, confrontational punk song.

Their latest EP, Cages, rails against racism, white supremacy, capitalism, wage slavery, factory farming, and, on the pummeling title track, the Trump administration’s brutal ongoing campaign to rip migrant children from their parents and pen them in concentration camps. “They use power to divide/Power to imprison/In a country so free it incarcerates children,” comes the song’s snarling climax, delivered in a duet of guttural roar and ragged shriek. The EP is stuffed with disparate influences and palpable rage, serving up five distinct and ambitious tracks in a blistering 13 minutes. Less is often more when it comes to punk, and despite Redbait’s obvious allegiance to the more metal (and historically more indulgent) side of the aisle, their commitment to brevity is admirable.

Thanks to a brutally sludgy mid-song break, “Cages” is also the band’s most metal track, while on “Bred for the Knife,” a furious diatribe against the cruelties of factory farming, they soar to their breathless, Tragedy-referencing best. Redbait’s self-identification as “proletarian crust” works on multiple levels: Not only is Cages grounded in radical working-class politics, it’s also alive with the clang of machinery, the screech of grinding metal, and the smell of blood on the factory floor.

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Blink-and-you’ll-miss-it opener “Capital Gains” is more straightforward: The minute-and-change track rails against capitalist exploitation while charging along to the tune of mid-2000s thrash and swinging its knuckles like a mid-2000s pit boss (undoubtedly the only kind of boss Redbait recognize). The most personal track, “Forever Ends Now,” opens on a maudlin melodic note, its first stanza cleanly sung before a bolt of chaos kicks in to close out the EP. Elsewhere, the potent crust of “Our Town” offers an uptempo hometown anthem with teeth, skewering racist NIMBYs and name-dropping nearby Ferguson, Missouri: “Talk back to a cop/And you can lose your life/Shut it down!”

Every generation of young punks needs its Dead Kennedys, its Crass, or its Anti-Flag; with any luck, Redbait might be this one’s.

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