The words ‘neutral’, ‘milk’, and ‘hotel’ come together in a way which makes me all warm inside. To those in the know, that feeling is incomparable. You drop those three words together in a conversation, and if only one other person too is in the know, you are lost for hours discussing a massively overlooked band from the 90s, who released an album (In The Aeroplane Over The Sea) which is regarded as one of the best of the decade. On Avery Island preceded their landmark release by two years. Although similar in sound, it is not the same collection of raw feeling, the same feelings which are evoked every time someone in passing mentions the words Neutral Milk Hotel.

Neutral Milk Hotel is fronted by Jeff Mangum, and is part of the Elephant 6 Recording Company, which included other prominent 90s bands such as The Apples in Stereo, and Of Montreal. At the start of Neutral Milk Hotel’s formation, Mangum was the sole operator in the band, and the curator of all things ‘lo-fi rock’ should be. Slowly amassing a band, by the time On Avery Island was released, a strong cohesive understanding of Mangum’s vision was shared with those he played with. Whilst this album isn’t by any means an indicator that they would go on to create a classic album within a few years, it is well rounded, with a lot going for it.

Jeff Mangum’s voice is the grounding force through all of Neutral Milk Hotel’s work. Whilst possibly alienating at first, with a vocal line that seems to scrawl itself in the airwaves, his singing works wonders for a genre which can often leave the lyricist lost in a sea of noise. Mangum is a master of crafting out intricate stories with his lyrics, weaving tales around buoying melodies at home with the content of the songs. Never really do you get the feeling that either the lyrics or the melody came first, it all seems to come together extremely well.

One major criticism I would levee at On Avery Island is the slight lack of consistency regarding the running of the album. The hushed ending of ‘Avery Island/April 1st’ runs into the brazen opening of ‘Gardenhead/Leave Me Alone’, and the sudden change jars the overall listen slightly, and this isn’t helped when ‘Gardenhead/Leave Me Alone’ finishes and we are given another about turn with ‘Three Peaches’. There is no denying the beauty of the tracks, and in fact after ‘Three Peaches’ we launch into ‘Naomi’, a love song brimming with emotion. In ‘Naomi’, Mangum barefacedly says that this woman’s perfume “tastes like shit," but as with all the songs here, we are left with hope, as Mangum concludes the song saying, “And if she only really knew /One billion angels could come and save her soul/They could save her soul until she shines.”

This reissue includes the two songs included on the original UK release of the album, featuring ‘Everything Is’, and ‘Snow Song Part 1’, which round off the album, and if never heard before are well worth the time to listen to. ‘Everything Is’ may be one of the most relaxed song by Neutral Milk Hotel ever, with echoes of Beck in both the lyrics and the vocals. ‘Snow Song Part One’ has a much slower pace which shows a much more vulnerable side of Mangum which we don’t always get. All in all, On Avery Island is a good way to get into Neutral Milk Hotel and the Elephant 6 movement in general, but for those already a fan of their later work, you won’t be missing out on anything too great by giving this a pass.