Gerbils The Battle of Electricity

No, Neutral Milk Hotel has not returned from self-imposed recording exile, but these two releases may temporarily slake fans' thirst. Neutral Milk Hotel leader Jeff Magnum gets hopes up with Live At Jittery Joe's, but it's an acoustic recording done four years ago, containing no hint of songs written since 1998's In the Aeroplane Over the Sea. It does contain intimate renditions of Aeroplane faves, including "Two Headed Boy" and "Oh Comely," one unrecorded song called "Engine" and a cover of Phil Spector's "I Love How You Love Me." The Gerbils is the other half of the equation, who served as backing band for Magnum on Aeroplane and now release their second album on their own. They demonstrate that the sound of a travelling side-show creaking along a dusty road, weighted with members and instruments and dusty from years on the road was in fact their own. The horns, singing saws and slightly off-kilter sounds that made Aeroplane a delight are here, but what's missing is Magnum's plaintive wail and visionary songwriting. And while playing these albums back to back isn't quite the same, playing them simultaneously really doesn't work. Apparently Magnum is currently working with Olivia Tremor Control's Will Hart in his band the Circulatory System, but nothing will suffice until Neutral Milk Hotel finally resurfaces. (Orange Twin)