The recipe for an iconic record goes something like this: Take impressionable youth, mix in a fresh take on heartbreak, cook in the heated soul of a teenager and let cool.
Those who lament a dearth of classic albums these days often forget that last part, that bona-fide legendary music isn’t always readily apparent, that it takes time for it to rise above the riff raff and noise.
Take Neutral Milk Hotel’s 1998 classic In the Aeroplane Over the Sea; at the time of its release, little indicated its longevity (it certainly wasn’t commercially successful), or that it would create the template for the indie-folk/folk-punk sound popular throughout the last decade.
Shortly after the album’s release, singer-songwriter Jeff Mangum went AWOL, disbanding the group and later suffering a nervous breakdown — contributing in no small part to Neutral Milk Hotel’s enduring mystique. Many never expected to hear his plaintive, wailing tenor again.
In 2010, the eccentric Mangum reemerged, performing what was supposed to be a one-off benefit for a friend. Since then he’s toured and recorded, playing a mixture of Neutral Milk Hotel songs and new material, usually alone, just voice and guitar.
And “Two-Headed Boy,” Mangum’s most recognized tune, still sounds as fresh as it ever did. The thrumming, urgent guitar-line providing backdrop to Mangum as he builds romantic and impressionistic imagery, frequently sacrificing staying “in tune” to hit certain emotional highs and lows; when the song shifts to minor-key in the chorus, Mangum sings: “We will take off our clothes; and they’ll be placing fingers through the notches in your spine.” Your heart jumps into your throat, even if you’re not quite sure what he means.
Jeff Mangum plays 8 pm Sunday, April 7, at the McDonald Theatre; $26. Of every ticket sold, $1 benefits Children of the Blue Sky, a service helping Mongolian children find foster homes.