Neutral Milk Hotel was an American band formed in Ruston, Louisiana, by musician Jeff Mangum. They were active from 1989 to 1998, and then from 2013 to 2015. The band's music featured a deliberately low-quality sound, influenced by indie rock and psychedelic folk. Mangum wrote surreal and opaque lyrics that covered a wide range of topics, including love, spirituality, nostalgia, sex, and loneliness. He and the other band members played a variety of instruments, including non-traditional instruments like the singing saw and uilleann pipes.
Neutral Milk Hotel began as one of Mangum's home recording projects. After graduating high school, Mangum lived as a vagabond and sporadically released music. In 1996, he worked with childhood friend Robert Schneider to record the album On Avery Island, which received modest reviews and sold around 5,000 copies. Mangum recruited musicians Julian Koster, Jeremy Barnes, and Scott Spillane for the band's second album, In the Aeroplane Over the Sea. Its 1998 release received mostly positive, but not laudatory reviews.
While on tour, the band's popularity grew through Internet exposure. This negatively affected Mangum, whose mental health began to deteriorate; he did not want to continue touring and Neutral Milk Hotel went on hiatus shortly after. During their hiatus, Neutral Milk Hotel gained a cult following and the critical standing of In the Aeroplane Over the Sea rose tremendously. Several music outlets such as Pitchfork and Blender called In the Aeroplane Over the Sea a landmark album for indie rock and one of the greatest albums of the 1990s. Many indie rock groups such as Arcade Fire and the Decemberists were influenced by Neutral Milk Hotel's eclectic music and earnest lyrics. Neutral Milk Hotel reunited in 2013 and undertook a reunion tour before another hiatus in 2015.