Sammy the Seal

“I’m still wanting my face on your cheek”

In vinyl on Wednesday, 29 June, 2011 at 11:23

Songs: Two-Headed Boy, Parts 1 and 2
Artist: Neutral Milk Hotel
Album: In The Aeroplane Over The Sea

(The abrupt break between songs is because they’re not adjacent, rather they’re at opposite ends of the album.)

Two is better than one, right? No pun intended, just a coincidence, as these happen to be two of the best songs on the album. I know that doesn’t say much, considering how special the entire album is, though I will say, contrary to popular opinion, I’m ambivalent about the title track. If forced to, I doubt I could rank all tracks from 1 to 11, except that one would likely be #11.

I don’t know to say about this that hasn’t been said in the last thirteen years. It never ceases to amaze how time works on you. The “Carrot Flowers” songs and “Holland, 1945” were much more accessible initially, and indeed, I latched on to those. They’re still great, and “Holland” is still magnificent, but the way this two-headed duo made their way here before the others is impressive. I openly admit one-person-with-acoustic-guitar is not often my thing, but these two have powered their way past my loose, but defined prejudices. “Part 2” in particular is profoundly moving, no doubt aided by its presence as the final track on the album. Regardless of what the lyrics signify, you can feel that this was intensely personal. In that regard, you don’t necessarily have to know. Part of the wonder of listening is being able to connect with someone you don’t even know, while simultaneously forgetting yourself and experiencing someone else’s reality. (Out of nowhere rant alert!) Personally, I think knowing what everything means strips a work of art of its poetry, and reduces an artist’s humanity to a cheap, known quantity, usually in the service of attempting to “relate” to a work. It’s all so bloodless. It secretly irritates the shit out of me how some puny human brains must know, must know, must know– what’s the point if everything can be explained and rationalized, every thought and intention delineated? (Similar to how people want to know what Bob whispers to Charlotte at the end of Lost In Translation, or even what all the Japanese dialogue in the film means.) For me, the wonder is that there is no clear entry point in the lyrics, and yet the emotional impact from the songs is very real and strong. I don’t need to know what exactly he was saying, and though I have no idea what actually went through Jeff Mangum’s head, by the end of this song, I could swear I understood it all.

The final song on an album being a spare, acoustic number is nothing new, but goddamn if “Part 2” isn’t heartbreaking. To say nothing of our closing line: “don’t hate her when she gets up to leave.”

Many of these live videos from the late 90s contain multiple songs, so at the end of “Part 2” you have “Holland, 1945”– as if that’s a negative point. If this was all too plaintive, let “Holland” kick your ass. Look at those kids dance! Bow that guitar, yeah!


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