Now playing on PHAWKER RADIO! Why? Because it’s GREAT! That’s why.
Of all the bands to come out of the Elephant 6 collective — that loose-knit cross-country cabal of weedy bus-station transcendentalists and grass-stained pranksters — Neutral Milk Hotel was the least beholden to classic psych-rock templates, yet somehow managed to evoke and advance them all at once. On 1998’s In The Aeroplane Over The Sea, Jeff Mangum’s mewling sunshine Superman melodies are colored by bare, ruined choirs of singing saw, fuzz bass, mariachi horns, bowed banjo, accordion, home organ and Salvation Army marching band brass. Produced by the Apples in Stereo’s Robert Schneider, these harrowing, heart-tugging tunes follow Mangum’s fractured yelp, soaring on wax wings toward the sun only to land softly on a surrealistic pillow of sound fashioned out of enough obscure instrumentation to give your average ethnomusicologist a Viagra woody–zanzithophone, euphonium, uilleann pipes and a shortwave radio. Like Jack with his magic beans, Neutral Milk Hotel proved that with little more than a pocketful of seeds and stems, you could grow a beanstalk to heaven. — JONATHAN VALANIA
RADIO EXILE: The story of Neutral Milk Hotel’s short existence has been told and told well (see Kim Cooper’s wonderful 33 1/3 book on the subject). What is untold, and in many respects, far more interesting, is the influence of Neutral Milk Hotel. There are five major themes that spring forth from Neutral Milk Hotel that you see repeated time and time again. Jeff Mangum and his crew did not synthesize these themes; all existed prior to the formation of the band in the mid-‘90’s. But, going back to the black hole analogy, all the matter in the universe existed before it collapsed into a singular point in space and time. Similarly, these five pre-existing themes all collapsed into a singularity known as Neutral Milk Hotel before they were expelled outward into the musical universe, altered and defined by the impact of Neutral Milk Hotel. MORE
BONUS TRACK: Wilco – “King of Carrot Flowers, Pt. 1? [mp3]
NEUTRAL MILK HOTEL: Holland, 1945
CNN: We all suffer occasional lapses in memory. Some people suffer severe neurological conditions, such as Alzheimer’s, that rob them of their ability to form memories or remember recent events.Three new studies shed light on the way the brain forms, stores and retrieves memories. Experts say they could have implications for people with certain mental disorders. Newly born brain cells, thousands of which are generated each day, help “time stamp” memories, according to a computer simulation by scientists at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, California, and the University of Queensland in Australia. The research was published in the journal Neuron. These cells do not record an exact, absolute date — such as January 28, 2009 — but instead encode memories that occur around the same time similarly. In this way, the mind knows whether a memory happened before, after or alongside something else. Neuroscientists believe that if the same neurons are active during two events, a memory linking the two may be formed. MORE
EDITOR & PUBLISHER: Just two weeks after Gannett instituted a mandatory one-week furlough for all employees, a major regional chain of MediaNews Group is doing the same. The Bay Area News Group–East Bay, which includes nine daily papers outside San Francisco such as the Oakland Tribune, is informing staffers that they will have to take an unpaid week off during February or March, according to a memo first posted on the Poynter.org Romenesko site. The note, from David Rounds, president and publisher of the group, states: “In a further effort to help offset the continuing decline in revenue and position the company for future financial success while mitigating further job losses, I am announcing the implementation of a mandatory one (1) week furlough for employees to be scheduled during the period beginning February 1, 2009 and running through the month of March. All executives and management of the Company will be included. Each employee’s department head will determine the actual week an employee is furloughed.” MORE
PHILLY MAG: [Brian] Tierney offered himself up as The Man Who Would Save Philadelphia’s Newspapers at a tumultuous time. In the years just before he purchased the Inquirer and Daily News, frequent cost-cutting had become the industry norm. Employees, mostly reporters, were shed like unwanted fat. Revenue was in free fall. Philadelphia’s papers earned the Knight-Ridder chain a $100 million profit in 2004 but only $76 million in 2005, and were on course for just $50 million when Tierney purchased them the next year. But Tierney is a former advertising and public relations executive, and words like “decline” and “fall” aren’t part of his vocabulary. And so the savior walked into the Inquirer building speaking not of retrenchment, but of expansion. He said local ownership would provide an antidote to the toxic requirements of Wall Street, which demanded ever-increasing profits. And when he first took to a podium in the Inquirer building, he made a particularly grand promise: “The Next Great Era in Philadelphia Journalism,” he said, “begins today.” Legacy time.
Now, less than three years later, it’s all gone to hell. Circulation has fallen. In early 2008, Tierney warned union representatives of “a dire situation” if costs weren’t cut by 10 percent. The papers have slashed more than 400 staff members across all departments since he took over. According to Newspaper Guild representative Bill Ross, Tierney once shook up a management meeting by barking “I will not lose my fucking house over this!” And Ross says a couple of people emerged from a private meeting with the CEO claiming that he’d spoken to them, in his 12th-floor office, with a baseball bat in his hands. Ross also adds that in January, Tierney took to patrolling the parking garage, watching to see what time employees were arriving to work and asking managers about those who were late. “That’s what I’m getting calls about now,” says Ross. “He’s walking around the parking garage. If he gets hit by a car, it’ll be his own fault.” Tierney’s ownership group, Philadelphia Media Holdings, stopped making interest payments to its creditors over the summer. Thirty-five further editorial layoffs were announced in December. No one knows what tomorrow will bring — except that some tomorrow could mark the end of Philadelphia’s newspapers. MORE
MICHAEL WOLFF: Well, clearly we’re seeing the end of newspapers, and in a way we’re seeing the end of broadcast news also. So it was this radical movement to this new medium. That’s where people get their news. The digital world is the news world now. And I think that’s incontrovertible. What’s curious is that there have yet to be any really successful native news applications online. In essence what we [as news consumers] have available are the following: the automated aggregators, the Yahoo or Google news feeds or aggregators, then we have the legacy brands – the NYTimes/MSNBC/CNN and so on – and we have blogs.
We don’t really have anything that begins to be comparable to the evening news. And remember in the history of news, news isn’t really a fractured medium. People like to get the same news that everyone else is getting. That’s sort of one of the points about news – I know what you know. So I thought there was a real opportunity to create a mass market, online news-outlet.
My thesis here is that while the nature of the news consumption and news distribution is changing, certain habits that have always been constant would remain constant; which is to say that people want news efficiently and quickly, unlike most news online which demand a huge amount of time, attention, and sorting. […] I thought the key would be that news had to be entertaining, and efficient. I thought that the conceit that people want unedited and unfiltered packaged data is probably not true. It may be true for some people, but most people probably don’t. So I thought: Okay, let’s look at this medium. What are the key changes in this medium? And one of the key changes of course is that the thought that news would come from one source is over; it’s archaic. So look at what this medium does – bringing together all these sources for one thing – and combine that with what remains constant. MORE
PHAWKER: No shit, Sherlock.