Neutral Milk Hotel – On Avery Island

Well, this is going to be really, really, boring, but look, I haven’t written a review in over a week, because it’s too difficult to write about an album that I actually care about. I wanted to do it while drunk, so maybe it’d be at least entertaining, but that’s not going to happen because I never have drunken down time anymore (one of the great tragedies of the modern world). I’m also at work – I have a regular job now and it’s quite time-consuming. The order of thingdoing tends to go Work > Girlfriend > Friends > Sleep > Gym > Reading > Reviews, so there’s very little time for ol’ option six. And I’m good at economizing my time, there just isn’t enough of it.

So, in my lovely work hour, and without further ado, I present a wholly humourless, sober, and forgetful presentation of: The Apartments I Have Lived (In Toronto) – narrated by Myles Stocker and forcibly connected to the album On Avery Island by Neutral Milk Hotel.

1222 Shaw Street

My first ever apartment (of my own) ever, and a silly apartment it was. When I moved in there was a blood-stained mattress in the room – the previous occupant had been stabbed by her boyfriend – and I still slept on that mattress for a few days, until I bought my very first futon. The place was by Ossington and Dupont – even then not a bad area, but recently (at the time) it was so; once I was stopped by police while wandering around the empty recording studios to the West. I was nothing but an alcoholic at the time; I didn’t work, and I usually started as soon as I woke up. It was my first down time after my mom’s death, and what can I say…I used the payphone across the street half the summer for my human contact. I was dating Bonnie at the time, and while Bonnie was a cool enough girl, we were not particularly well-matched, and the whole summer was a blur of shouting and drinking and waking up hungover with the sunlight burning its way into my irises (I never did get proper blinds). But the place! It was a fairly nice place. $450 a month, if I remember correctly. There was a roof you could get to, and it was a rather scary roof in that the building was illogically shaped and the roof ended where you didn’t expect it to, particularly when it was dark. I watched the fireworks on Victoria Day with Alex and Daniel from that roof. I remember the guy below me used to play guitar on the porch, and he fucking hated me. Said he had to move his bedroom because I was too loud, and that I was “ignorant.” My friend Alex Easler offered to beat him up for me. If this apartment were a song on the album, it would have to be “You’ve Passed,” the most alt-rocky song on here. Angsty and lyrically gah-worthy, in the way where reading all the lyrics makes you regret being born.

3-180 Queen Street West

Located in a small pocket of affordability between the fashionable Queen West and the super fashonable Queen West West (and even more fashionable Queen West West West), this apartment was a tiny 3-bedroom above a Subway (the restaurant), up two flights of stairs. Gah. Well, the floors were crooked and the kitchen didn’t really work and it was way too hot and I could never sleep and bands would start playing outside my window at 3 in the morning, but this place was great, and precisley the last reason mentioned. Probably the one time I will even live truly in the thick of the urban soup – no quiet side streets or entrances without permahobos for me. I loved living here, even though the apartment was too narrow for my chair to be next to my bed. I worked a convenient shift – usually four to nine, and that allowed me to be all sorts of annoying to my roommates, one of whom was a hot lesbian. Yes, those were days of drinking until I had noise violations called on me, and yelling out the window at the busy street, and having my favourite bar be two doors East (a situation oddly replicated by where I am right now). Out the fire escape you could traverse to the roofs of many adjacent and adjacent-ish buildings and alleys in the area, even though I never did much more with that than move a mattress. This apartment would surely be: Gardenhead / Leave Me Alone,” the most accessible song here, a paranoid (but beautiful) two part indie rocker before the modern conception of indie-rock existed, and what Torontonian hasn’t fancied this the “city of frost-covered angels”? Probably ones who haven’t heard the song and are narcissitic citynerds, that’s who (most everybody). The “Gardenhead” part is way better, though.

22 McGill Street

A two-minute walk to Yonge and College yet somehow it still felt run-down. A boarding house with eight rooms but only one bathroom on an isolated street with a drug park next door. Great. I didn’t live here for long, not even long enough to move my bed, and I think the impact of it will mostly be felt in the following piece of what I might think was apocrypha was it not my own: August 31st, my very last night living in this place, having stayed up far too late in Kensington with my friends, I tripped while walking up the stairs and lost my key. So now it’s perhaps four in the morning, I’m drunk and stoned, I’m moving in the morning, and I’ve lost my way of entry to my bed. So I do what absolutely no normal person would do, and I pile some garbage bags in my doorway, and I go to sleep on them. My roommate lets me in around 7 (he worked at a nightclub), and the next day the people across the street warn my other roommate to be careful, because there was some sketchy guy sleeping in the doorway. The only other thing I did here was to spend many evenings drinking vodka and arguing about politics with Jessica, my roommate and coworker at Public Outreach. This apartment gets to be “A Baby For Pree,” reflected in how it’s all short and stuff, and echoes a much better song later in the album. Actually, maybe it’s just almost 4:30. Neat weird song, though!

C-70 Huron Street

An awesome and quirky one-bedroom in a coach house behind a much shabbier apartment building near Kensington. I lived here for a month, and I think it was all spent watching Lost and playing chess with Girlfriend, who she is at the time of this writing. Oh, the thinks you’ll think! The shower was pointy and could barely fit a person, the fridge was a miniature fridge, and the stovetop was all European all non-workingy. I subletted the place from a guy named Brahm who didn’t like to talk about what he did for a living, and there were boxes of wires and electronics of unknown purpose everywhere. It was spring and there was grass in front, and I had to walk to the scuzzy basement of the building in front of me to do laundry and the coach house itself was accessible only through one alley or another from main streets Spadina and College. For the sun I felt in the morning and the blooming trees that made me sneeze and my daily walking to nowhere in particular, “Marching Theme” is this apartment, exactly what it sounds like for 2/3rds of its length, then an alt-rock instrumental (well it’s all instrumental) with catchy riff and all at the end.

1-423 Spadina Avenue

Another place I lived in for a month, this was a nice apartment above a doomed restaurant called The Downtown Standard that I never went to. There was a skylight over my bed that made it nearly impossible to sleep in – what the hell do people with skylights in their bedrooms do? It was an unremarkable month, mostly populated with doubt over an oncoming relationship and lengthy evening conversations with my roommate Trish over her then off on-again-off-again. I read Ulysses while I was here, but mostly at the library because it was oppressively hot. Eventually Trish forced me out in favour of a friend of hers who would in turn ditch her (and I’m still bitter), but for reasons listed and surmisable from above (and for being a place where I had sex for the first time in a long while), this apartment is the cynical, upbeat WYSIWYG opener “Song Against Sex.”

14 Oxford Street

And so for one month I finally lived with my best friends in the market.  It was pretty boring. There were bedbugs in the next room and I lived in fear of them spreading to mine, but they never did. We had a roommate who stole from us relentlessly that I still loved because she was a no-good bulimic hipster; said roommate was reviled otherwise. I’m not sure what I did this whole month. For starting off promising and ending up kinda forgettable, this apartment is “Someone Is Waiting.” Congratulations, “Someone Is Waiting,” you’re basically an appendage of “You’ve Passed” that’s only your own song to pad the track list, not that that makes sense because the tracklist isn’t on the record!

5-14 Chatsworth Drive

This apartment was like living as a reasonable, respectable adult. A genuine one-bedroom apartment at Lawrence and Yonge, borrowed from my brother while he was in Afghanistan fighting the communists. I stayed here for a good eight months, including my first winter in the city since my childhood. Girlfriend and I got together in my kitchen over whiskey and the flu. Long hours watching MTV, hearing the subway rumble by at night, drinking drinking so much drinking, lost days and long days with a kicker of family bitterness. Why, it’s just like the fourteen minutes of swirly guitar buzz buzz “Pree Sisters – Swallowing A Donkey’s Eye” that ends the album! Also, in my mind it is often called “Pree Sisters – Suckin’ A Donkey’s Cock.” I’m not sure why my brain thinks it’s so funny, but it makes me grin every time! Also, speaking of comic books where nothing happens, every time i’m on the Sheppard line, i imagine the stations are so big because giants walk there at night. Oh, Sheppard line. Once I had a dream I opened a bar called Shephard Line Bar at Don Mills. God I’m uninteresting. Much like “Naomi,” a stupid, uncatchy, whiny love song! You suck, “Naomi”! I hate you and you make me angry for being by far the worst NMH song ever. Asshole.

476 Crawford Street

I lived with my best friends in a basement. You’d think it’d be cool, but I never saw them because I worked an awful job for Environment Canada at the literal border of the city, and my room was kinda the laundry room because I was poor, and the fridge buzzed all night and made me insane. “Three Peaches” is a slow, depressing song with stupid lyrics in general, except for a great part at the end where Old Man Mangum says “I’m so happy, I’m so happy, I’m so happy” in the MOST DEPRESSED VOICE EVER. Aw, it’s great.

1-1052 Bloor Street West

Where I live now (February 26, 2010). Small place, terrible roommates. Well, first I lived with Matt and Lea, who were very nice people, and I was my normal, irascible self, but now, oh my, since December, my life has pretty much been dominated by disdain and dislike at my current roommates, who I’ll get to ranting about soon. Foreshadowing occured the night I moved in when we were having a few beers. At the time I was making nearly minimum wage ($300/week), and barely able to get by. I shared this, as it as my common complaint to just about everyone I knew at the time. Later, I shared that I was Jewish, for I am at least half-Jewish, depending on how you look at it. His completely unironic response: “oh, so that’s how you get by on 300 bucks a week!”  …Yeah, so there hasn’t been time to reflect on how I can see the College streetcar from my window and the joys of inadequate heating. I’m never at home, because it’s so hideously uncomfortable. And hopefully I’m moving to a place with no roommates in a month. “On Avery Island.”

I should also point out that I lived at the Waverly Hotel for a week. But that’s a different album and about three lifetimes away. I’ll get to that.

I don’t know, I like this album a lot. It reminds me of times in my life, and Gummy’s voice is so reedy and uninimitable that I can help but be twinged, and the sounds are all nicely muted and I don’t know…I hate “Naomi” though. What is that? Really, what was he thinking? It’s awful! “Please please please don’t leave meeeeeeee”? AGH. Also, three of the songs are instrumental and one of them is an appendage and one of them is really short, so you’ll feel slightly ripped off. A solid 8. I hope you all learned something today.



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