My Top 1000 Songs #269: King Of Carrot Flowers Pt. 1-3

It's hard to convey the sensory overload I experienced when I first played Neutral Milk Hotel's In The Aeroplane Over The Sea upon its release in 1998. I'd read some glowing reviews, but really didn't know what to expect, having missed their 1996 debut (aside from assuming it would be comparable to the Apples of Stereo, a band I already loved, and whose Robert Schneider produced it). I still remember the excitement of sitting in the parking lot of the sadly defunct Tower Records in Mountain View/Palo Alto, fumbling with the dreaded jewel case seal and finally popping it into the dashboard CD player as I pulled out onto the road, and being... well, I think "stunned" is the right word... from the opening seconds.

Yes, I'm cheating again (sort of) with yet another medley, but the 3-part suite is essentially a single song that squeezes a dazzling array of styles into its 5-minute emotional rollercoaster. It starts off surprisingly sweetly, a pleasant acoustic number (later joined by accordion), with Jeff Mangum's sometimes-challenging vocalizations at their most winning, helpfully double-tracked. Yet the Part 1 lyrics instantly cue up the record's dichotomy of beauty and ugliness, detailing young sexual exploration in frank terms, juxtaposed against an almost shocking scene of domestic abuse just downstairs. "Your mom would stick a fork right into daddy's shoulder, and dad would throw the garbage all across the floor. As we would lay and learn what each other's bodies were for."

Talk about an album opener that was nothing short of holy shit.

The song then pivots to Part 2, a slow, burbling swamp with Mangum's anguished wail emerging, proclaiming, "I love you Jesus Christ" in passionate reverence and/or agony. But you can hear the gears slowly spinning up, a horn section joining the fray as the machinery begins to crank, an array of distortion and atmospherics; and next thing you know you're in the midst of an all-out post-punk sonic assault, over-amped guitars deep in the red and a frenetic pace almost completely obscuring the infectious pop underbelly, the lyrics that seep out opaque and disturbing and haunting, dead dogs and synthetic flying machines and whatnot.

And then it grinds to a halt with a single "plink" on a piano.
I still don't know how I made it home alive.
A suitably wonderful and breathtaking performance of Part 1 by indie duo Kolars:
Death Cab For Cutie covering Part 1:
Apples in Stereo's cover of Part 3: