On Avery Island
A full album, On Avery Island, followed, this time recorded mainly in Denver , Colorado, where Mangum was backed by Robert Schneider of The Apples in Stereo, Rick Benjamin of the Perry Weissman Three and Lisa Janssen of Secret Square. It was released by Merge Records in 1996. On On Avery Island Mangum’s unique vocal style and the band’s quirky but playful arrangements create a carnival atmosphere of moods ranging from excitement, suspense and melodrama.
After the release of On Avery Island, Neutral Milk Hotel became a fully-fledged band, as Julian Koster, Scott Spillane and Jeremy Barnes joined Mangum, the band now being based in New York . Soon after this, they moved to Athens, Georgia, where many of Mangum’s friends had begun to settle, and the Elephant 6 recording company began to fully take shape. After this, the band went back to Denver, to record a proper follow up to On Avery Island.
In the Aeroplane Over the Sea
The band’s second LP, In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, released in 1998, is notable as a critically acclaimed work and a widely popular recording. It is a spiritually motivated work, conceptually based on the beauty to be found in the horrific fate of Anne Frank and similarly overwhelming tragedies. (Mangum has, during live performances, including the one released under the title “Live at Jittery Joe’s”, described some of the songs off this album as based on urgent, recurring dreams he had of a European family during the 1940s.) The album was highly praised by critics for its wildly inventive instrumentation and Mangum’s provocative and impassioned lyrics. Although it met with scant response from the general public when it was released, the recording has continued to gain momentum in indie music circles and has become a cult classic, selling well over 100,000 copies according to Merge Records. However, the record along with the year of constant touring that succeeded it took its toll on Mangum. The band quite abruptly went on hiatus turning down all requests for shows, including a support slot for R.E.M.. All of a sudden the band appeared to go silent and very little has been heard from Mangum since 1999.