Endless Endless: A Lo-Fi History of the Elephant 6 Mystery

Hachette. Jan. 2022. 384p. ISBN 9780306923944. $30. MUSIC
The Elephant 6 Recording Company, a fluctuating music collective founded by Jeff Mangum, has a lot of mystery attached to it. Mangum was the front man for the band Neutral Milk Hotel, whose album In the Aeroplane over the Sea (1998) skyrocketed in popularity only after Mangum abruptly disappeared from the music scene. In this book, 13 years in the making, journalist Clair (Stereogum; Vice) pieces together the story of Mangum and the Elephant 6, drawing from personal interviews from musicians like Robert Schneider, Will Cullen Hart, and Hilarie Sidney. Band members describe how they created punk “noise” in garages, layered recordings over one another, adding in one instrument at a time, and eventually became a legitimate recording label. Inserting his own opinions in between snippets of interviews, he conveys respect for Mangum and the Elephant 6, as well as an unrequited yearning to understand why Mangum walked away. This book could have been shorter, but it takes time to explore all of the meandering paths of both the collective and it numerous offshoots. Unfortunately, the book drags at times amid all of the unresolved speculation about Mangum, and there is no resolution by the text’s end.
VERDICT Despite the flaws, die-hard fans of Neutral Milk Hotel may find this title worth checking out.
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