Iconoplaylist: Neutral Milk Hotel

“What a curious life we have found here tonight. There is music that sounds from the street” – In The Aeroplane Over the Sea, Neutral Milk Hotel


The Flying Victrola by Brian Dewan

We’ve not yet discussed music here on The Iconophile, so let us rectify that immediately. Music is important to us, it inspires us during our work day and beyond. Music sets the tone, the pace, it leads you by the mind through the creative process……. Wow, with a build-up like that I guess we’d better make this a regular feature…… Ok, done.

It is not unusual for me to spend the better part of the day in my photographic studio and music is my constant companion. Getting the right playlist is vital to creating the ideal mood for concentration and also, to play with the emotions and stimulate the brain. I don’t listen to the radio, the talk is not conducive to concentration and the playlists can be sketchy at times and even the best programmes are uncontrollable. From the studio lighting right down to the table I place the subjects on and the tripod that holds the camera, every single element of my studio has been carefully planned to perfectly compliment my work process, so of course I want to control the sounds too.

There are very few bands that have weathered the heavy tests of time but a few endure. Some start out magical but you play them too much until you can hear them no longer. Others don’t hold the promise of earlier work and subsequent failure tarnishes the memory. But very occasionally there is a band or artist that comes along whom you can never be tired of hearing. This is true for Neutral Milk Hotel, a band on the Elephant 6 recording label whose many artists are worth a listen. Neutral Milk Hotel like other Elephant 6 artists utilise unusual instruments (like saws) to get some of the unique sounds as can be seen in this live recording below featuring two of the bands members.

Youtube recording shot by Geoff Tweaty

Neutral Milk Hotel only ever recorded two full length studio albums, partly because their members all represented many other bands in the Elephant 6 stable and partly because the band’s leader, Jeff Mangum (and one of the founders of the Elephant 6 label) became a recluse ad shied away from the public side of being a recording artist.

But despite there being only the two full length albums, their second, ‘In The Aeroplane Over The Sea‘ is a true masterpiece and an album that rates very close to the summit of my top 10 albums of all time. It is wistful, romantic, powerful, very very dark in places (the album is allegedly inspired by the Diary of Anne Frank) and truly mesmerising, although not too mesmerising that I can’t get my work done at the same time. Far from it, it inspires me to be creative, as great music should.


Album cover by Chris Bilheimer