I have listened to Go, Robo! Go! since almost the beginning of their existence as a band in 2007. Even back then, you could never really be sure what kinds of sounds you were going to get from a new Robo song. You could hear a gnarly guitar solo, a frantic scream, a synthesizer, or all three in the same rock song. Their latest release, “Survival Songs” is a great example of such versatility.
One thing that is invariably true about the band is that they have a knack for storytelling. “Day 5: Still Alive” plunges us into a seemingly fast-paced and desperate apocalyptic atmosphere, complete with zombies. Despite the dark subject matter, the song comes off as upbeat and driving. If I were to pick a tune off of this EP to introduce how G,R!G! sounds, “Day 5” would definitely be it. You’ve got a catchy chorus, a guitar solo, and theatrical sound clips, all topped off with light synth: everything you really need to get a good taste of the talent that this band brings to the table.
From there, a creepy piano leads the listener into “Sins/Sacrifice.” This song features some of the best vocals I’ve ever heard from vocalist Sarah Rose. Her voice is as versatile as the band itself but this particular style strikes a chord with my emo-pop-loving heart. That creepy piano follows us throughout the track until we dive straight into an ambient bridge. From there a sinister guitar riff builds us back up into the final chorus repeating, “Well versed in sin and sacrifice, we bottle doom and we trade in gloom. Steal the soul of every girl in the gentry, indiscretions with the boys in the ballroom.”
“This Queen, Her Crown” is a shift in feel, slower and driven by the lead guitar. The verses are sung softly at first and then break into the heaviest chorus I’ve ever heard from Go, Robo! Go!. While it’s heavy at times, it’s also insanely hard to get unstuck from your head. This is the kind of song you sing in the shower because you’re hoping that, somehow, the acoustics will make your singing sound as good as the original.
The last track, “Deconstructionism,” is the biggest departure from previous Robo releases. It seems to have some modern day pop-punk influences but it’s also the kind of song I can see being in the intro of an anime series (provided it was translated into Japanese). The vocals seem strained at times but overall still very impressive and more importantly, very heartfelt. The lead guitar seems to be absent in this song until the break towards the end where it gives us one last solo.
This EP contains some of the best-written music that has been released by Go, Robo! Go! to date. In just four songs, it shows off the variety of styles their sound encompasses, and stretches the boundaries of what a Robo release could sound like. “Survival Songs” takes all the things I love about the band and builds on them by paving paths to new places the band might go. The EP can be found on their Bandcamp page and on Spotify.
Originally founded as a side project of Elf Power member Jeff Mangum, Neutral Milk Hotel has progressed from there to be one of the most renowned bands in recent memory. They are most well-known for their 1998 release of In the Aeroplane over the Sea, which has been among the top selling vinyl records every year since its release.
Neutral Milk Hotel, alongside The Apples in Stereo and The Olivia Tremor Control, formed a cornerstone of Athens’ Elephant Six Recording Company. Elephant Six, in turn, was a major player in Georgia music, and really all indie-music, throughout the nineties with their reach still being felt today via association with acts like Of Montreal.
When Jeff began recording in the late 80s and early 90s, he released more than a few self-produced cassettes that did not have initial success. Many of these early demos were produced, and distributed, in very small quantities. A few had titles such as Invent Yourself a Shortcake, and Beauty, both of which can be found online without much effort. These early demos were mostly traded around among friends, and were likely not meant for wider consumption.
Many of the songs featured on these early demos were undeveloped and poorly recorded versions of later songs. For instance, Beauty contains an extremely raw version of Gardenhead/Leave Me Alone. Later iterations of the song can be found on Hype City Soundtrack, and the 1996 release of On Avery Island. This song demonstrates the evolution in Jeff Mangum’s writing process – as he adds additional instruments and melody.
While the band’s first official album was released in 1996, it is 1993’s Hype City Soundtrack that is of interest here. Hype City was recorded and released independently, much like the band’s earlier demos. In this case, however, many of the songs were recorded in actual studios, and several hundred copies of the cassette were created and released through a small Italian duplicating plant. Hype City bridges the gap between the early/unfinished demos, and the later/more polished studio recordings by existing in a kind of hybrid state. The recordings are almost polished; the material is almost finished.
Hype City Soundtrack could easily be considered the band’s first album, were it not for the fact that it has remained unreleased (and legally unobtainable) since its initial run in 1993. In fact, it wasn’t until 2012, after the band’s post-hiatus reformation, that the cassette was leaked online. For that reason, many long time fans of Neutral Milk Hotel have never heard, or even heard of, Hype City Soundtrack.
Due to the evolving nature of these albums, it may be best that newcomers to Neutral Milk Hotel begin with listening to Hype City Soundtrack before any of the LPs or earlier demos. While Beauty, Invent Yourself a Shortcake, and several other demos tapes came before this album, Hype City Soundtrack is recorded with much better quality and the music is MUCH more accessible. With that in mind, I recommend listening to the Neutral Milk Hotel discography in this order:
1. Hype City Soundtrack
2. On Avery Island
3. In the Aeroplane Over the Sea
4. Other releases (Invent Yourself a Shortcake, Ferris Wheel on Fire, Beauty and any other demo tapes)
Hype City Soundtrack begins with a simple track, The Synthetic Flying Machine. The lyrics, melody, and some of the instrumentation were later copy-and-pasted into The King of Carrot Flowers Part 3 – an opening song on the band’s later release, In the Aeroplane Over the Sea. It’s simple and empty compared to the later version of the song, which might be why I love it so much. The raw and grainy aesthetic illustrates the bands origins; recording in a garage and printing on dollar store cassettes.
There’s something beautiful about that kind of simplicity.
From there, we move onto my two favorite songs from this album, Wood Guitar and Tuesday Moon. Again, the minimalism of Jeff’s writing is easy to hear. Basic chord progressions, flowing melodies, and that blue gritty tone. Be sure to listen in for the subtle instrumentation at the end of Tuesday Moon, it’s the kind of ominous and dense composition that is found in later Neutral Milk Hotel albums.
The following three songs are filled to the brim with samples, dinging bells, heavily distorted guitars, and Jeff’s SCREAMING voice. Honestly, these tracks are quick, and are more about fun than any musical significance. These songs put one in mind of a less abrasive and far jollier tribute to The Beatles’ Revolution 9 or some other equally odd sound sculpture.
Conversely, the next track is Gardenhead/Leave Me Alone. This tune would later be featured in the album On Avery Island. The song, as it is presented here, feels complete, unlike on earlier demos. It flows, and grows, and tells a story that seems familiar and impossible. Distorted acoustic guitar and Jeff’s nasally voice – that’s all that’s in this song, and it’s more than enough to create a solid track.
Biscuit is the following song, a noisy folk song with some samples, some spoken word, and A LOT of banjo. Los Angeles and Piggy come right after and they’re two other noisy, lo-fidelity tracks with some weird instrumentation and samples.
Engine closes this album – a Neutral Milk Hotel classic that they continue to play live to this day. It’s a somber and eerie melody, a continuous theme of Neutral Milk Hotel’s. This is partially due to Jeff Mangum’s singing, and partially from his mysterious lyrics.
“Then take up your windows and watch as the sweet babies crawl AWAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAY”
Hype City Soundtrack is completely indicative of Neutral Milk Hotel’s origins. While some of the albums songs can seem unconventional and challenging, Jeff Mangum manages to create a solid release that paved the way for many later works. It’s a gem that even devout Neutral Milk Hotel fans may have overlooked.
Favorite songs: Synthetic Flying Machine, Wood Guitar, Tuesday Moon, Engine, Gardenhead/Leave Me Alone, and Biscuit
The first step in the Analog Revolution is records.
We are a record label.
We’re pressing records. Ourselves. This is unique. And awesome.
We’ve cut one EP so far, and we are pressing copies of it in Andrew’s basement. The ability to make 7″ records in small batches is something that no one else can currently boast. We hope to move out to 10″ and 12″ records soon.
The music that we are releasing will come straight from our back yard. These are the musicians that make up our hometowns.
Watch this space for information about our upcoming releases. (and sign up for our mailing list, or tumblr, or twitter, or whatever, for more information! )
We support local artists and musicians. Someday soon in our store, you will find T-shirts, posters, art prints, and original artwork by many local artists and designers available for purchase. The majority of the profit from these items goes straight back to the people who created them.
We also occasionally run articles about local art and artists.