Jeff Mangum doesn’t want to taste your insides. He even said so on “Gardenhead (Leave Me Alone),” a track off both a 1993 cassette called “Hype City Soundtrack” and Neutral Milk Hotel’s debut long player, the 1996 “On Avery Island.” Three years separating the different versions allowed for considerable reworking and some fuller orchestration—a trait NMH would claim as a stylistic tattoo—including various brass and tiny instruments. What the time between an early nineties cassette and a semi-professional album during the decade’s second half allowed for was Mangum to trip along the music world, see that folks he’d already befriended were best as collaborators and then to redouble efforts with his chosen cohort. Born in a town not too far from Grambling State University in Louisiana, Mangum somehow eschewed any hint of Southernness in his music and embraced a skuzzy folk sound descended, in some ways, from popular sixties acts. The beginning of “Hype City” kicks off with a weird clip of some kid saying he dresses up like a punk every once in a while by donning a garbage bag. Punkness is widely avoided over Mangum’s recordings as well. The aesthetics of dontgiveafuck still pervade. His music was initially an insular music, made for himself and whoever he decides to shoot off copies to. The work just happened to be embraced by a significant number of folks who’ve gone on to construct a mythological story around Mangum, a figure who issued two utterly unique full-lengths and then dropped out of the limelight for a few years. After NMH’s second proper disc, the 1998 “In the Aeroplane Over the Sea,” Mangum released field recordings on a 2001 album he compiled after travels through Bulgaria and an acoustic set at an Athens, Georgia coffee house. Neither were meant to be chart toppers, but the NMH discs weren’t supposed to be either. They are in an alternate universe. (Dave Cantor)
February 6-7 at the Athenaeum, 2936 North Southport, (773)935-6860. 7:30pm. $36.