For the week of 7/2/2012…

“The King of Carrot Flowers, Pts. 1, 2 & 3″ by Neutral Milk Hotel

This three-part indie-rock suite, which opens Neutral Milk Hotel’s acclaimed 1998 album In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, is actually presented on the album as two tracks rather than one (or three!).  Nevertheless, I’m presenting them here as a single song (courtesy of a YouTube user who uploaded them that way), since the whole thing flows together anyway and is best heard all together.

The first part, which is about two minutes in length, starts out simply, with frontman Jeff Mangum singing over a strummed guitar.  At the end of the second verse, an accordion arrives to fill out the sound, adding to the emotional punch of the third and fourth verses with a series of powerful chords.  The climax of the section is the last line of the fourth and final verse, accentuated with a pretty trumpet line.  The lyrics of this section are interesting in that while the gist of the story is easily understood — this is a coming-of-age song set against the backdrop of a lover’s dysfunctional family — several nonsensical or simply opaque lines are interspersed within.  I really like the imagery here, regardless of whether or not it makes sense.  Nasal and untrained though Magnum’s voice may be, he sings his heart out and consequently the song is rather affecting.  I think “Part 1” is a great song in and of itself, and, when I first heard it, it was enough to convince me to listen to the rest of the album right then and there.

“Part 2” is an interlude which finds Mangum warbling — over the droning accordion and a carefully plunking guitar — “I love you Jesus Christ,” of all things.  Whether he’s being serious or ironic is up for debate.  Eventually, heavily distorted guitars and drums join him, like a slowly awakening beast, building up gradually during a trumpet solo which serves as a segue into “Part 3.”  This last section is fast-paced punk, with the band’s extremely fuzzed-up guitars crashing along as Mangum sings three more verses of somewhat obscure lyrics to a very catchy melody.

If you like this, then perhaps you should listen to the whole album, which someone has posted as a single YouTube video here.  It really is a great listen, and despite the presence of dark subject matter in the lyrics, the frequently lush music makes it a solid choice for summertime listening.