(Photo: Will Westbrook / courtesy of the artist)Neutral Milk Hotel's initial history was brief but astoundingly influential. The name itself initially referred to singer-songwriter Jeff Mangum's demo cassettes in the late '80s, but his project expanded with time and travel into a full band based in the college town of Athens, Ga., the same birthplace of indie pioneers R.E.M. They were well associated with the Elephant 6 Recording Co., a Denver-based collective of underground, psych-influenced '90s bands including Of Montreal, Elf Power and Apples in Stereo.
The band only released two proper albums, 1996's fiery "On Avery Island" and 1998's Anne Frank-influenced "In The Aeroplane Over The Sea," both recorded in Denver. Those two albums are among the most highly regarded records not only of their era, but of the indie rock canon as a whole for their immediacy despite their heavy lyrical matter.
After touring the latter record, Mangum promptly disbanded the group and left the spotlight, leaving adoring fans wondering if they'd ever hear an original song from the elusive writer again.
Last year, the original lineup reunited for a series of reunion shows that will take them across the summer festival circuit in 2014. Still no word on new music, but in the meantime, here are five similar artists to tide you over:
The Olivia Tremor Control
Though not as widely known as their Elephant 6 compatriots NMH and Of Montreal, the Olivia Tremor Control deserve to be as highly regarded. Their 1996 debut full length "Music From The Unrealized Film Script: Dusk At Cubist Castle" is a masterpiece of experimentation in an era that was musically short on it. The band went on hiatus in 2000, but returned for some well-received reunion performances until key member Bill Doss died in 2012.
Zach Condon's Beirut project meticulously blends folk and world music elements to the same marked success as Neutral Milk Hotel's albums. It should come as no surprise, then, that among Condon's many collaborations is his work with former NHM member Jeremy Barnes playing a variety of instruments for the latter's A Hawk and a Hacksaw.
Though his horn-driven indie rock is a little more garage soul than NMH's freak folk, Illinois native Ezra Furman's nasal throat-shredding vocals are an easy parallel to those of Jeff Mangum. And though Furman's records, like last year's excellent "Day Of The Dog," might seem a tad more upbeat, his down in the dumps poetics of songs like "I Wanna Destroy Myself" and "Bad Man" cut just as sharply.
The San Francisco duo's music has taken on a fuller rock sound in recent years, like on last year's fine "Carrier" album. But their earlier recordings feature manic alternative folk where you can hear fingertips joyfully scraping across percussive guitar strums, much like on the quieter tracks of "In The Aeroplane Over The Sea."
The Apples in Stereo
And if you aren't familiar with Denver's very own psych-pop heroes Apples in Stereo, another crucial band of Elephant 6, now's the time to check them out.
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