I find myself of several minds on this decidedly strange set by singer/songwriter Jeff Mangum's Neutral Milk Hotel. On balance they fall on the positive side—which is just another way of saying I like it a lot, even though I see the various problems plain. There's a lot of adenoidal yelpin' and wailin' contained herein, more than I usually have the tolerance for and most of it dallying on the borders of the dread twee. Directly so, in fact, with "The King of Carrot Flowers Pt. One" to open, followed immediately by "The King of Carrot Flowers Pts Two & Three." The various eccentricities of instrumentation—accordion, cornet, flugelhorn, bowed banjo, etc., etc.—are whimsical unto the death. It's folk music on its face, with forerunners Camper Van Beethoven and Beat Happening attempting to enclose it at either end of a spectrum. It's not afraid to swell the bottom and rock out awhile when it has a mind, most obviously on the imposing "Holland, 1945." I haven't tried much to puzzle out if the strange fragments of lyrics floating by add up to anything. They're weird and that's enough for me. There's the aforementioned king of carrot flowers, there's a two-headed boy, and, indeed, as promised, there's an aeroplane over the sea. These various nouns are combined with verbs and adjectives and the syntax all seems correct. Hell if I know what it's going on about, however. But Jeff Mangum, who wrote and sings most of these songs, seems to mean every syllable. That feeling is quite strong. And there are so many strange winning moments swirling about this, musically in the various mash-ups of sound achieved or when the cornet sounds impossibly, unbearably sweet in passages. Mangum is frequently at the head of calibrated yet powerfully moving performances; he flails at his acoustic guitar with precision and poise and lets the strange words uncork at the top of his lungs. It excites a kind of awe in such moments, so willfully dwelling in the place it has chosen, and respect too, the kind of feelings I also have for Frank Zappa or Todd Rundgren—brainy (maybe overly so), musical, restless, ruthlessly creative. Obviously everything has been poured into this—indeed, it is practically the last thing we have heard from Mangum and this band since. But what is it? Devastatingly original, we can start there for sure.