Neutral Milk Hotel - In The Aeroplane Over The Sea - Classic Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Neutral Milk Hotel - In The Aeroplane Over The Sea

by Kevin Orton Rating:9 Release Date:1998-02-18
Neutral Milk Hotel - In The Aeroplane Over The Sea
Neutral Milk Hotel - In The Aeroplane Over The Sea

Quite possibly the bravest and smartest move in showbiz is to create a masterpiece and then walk away from it all. That’s exactly what Jeff Mangum did after, In The Aeroplane Over The Sea. Any Indie Music snob will tell you how brilliant it is. And what’s even more maddening, they’re right. This is a one of a kind album, whose influence can be heard in the likes of Arcade Fire and The Decemberists.

Mangum’s unaffected and strained singing style can be heard in the countless Indie bands that followed in Neutral Milk’s Hotel’s wake. As for the sound of the album, it manages to be both lo-fi and lush. Lyrically and vocally, Mangum is quite simply mesmerizing. Even if you don’t like the grating quality of his voice. Vocally, Mangum might have much in common with They Might Be Giants’ John Linnell but his voice is far more expressive.

‘The King Of Carrot Flowers Pt. 1’ kicks things off summoning all the charm and quirkiness of Syd Barrett’s solo recordings and early Guided By Voices. ‘Pt. 2’ follows declaring, “I love you Jesus Christ” before the electric guitars and demented horns hit you. If the King of Carrot Flowers hasn’t roped you in, the gorgeous, melodic title track will with its irresistible melody and beguiling lyricism. Not to mention, a very haunting singing saw. One can hear a collage of influences at play, from Paul Simon to the Everly Brothers, to Roky Erickson and Robyn Hitchcock. “How strange it is to be anything at all,” Mangum sings.

If ‘Aeroplane’ isn’t hypnotic enough, ‘Two Headed Boy’ keeps up the momentum. Mangum merging surrealism with magical realism in a character study that could have easily come out of circus sideshow or a funhouse mirror. “The world that you need is wrapped in gold silver sleeves left beneath Christmas trees in the snow”, Magnum imparts. It may not make a lick of sense on the surface but subconsciously, you know just what he means.

The instrumental, ‘The Fool’ sounds like a demented cross between something off Sgt. Pepper’s and a drunken Gypsy band. It may lack lyrics, but its meaning comes across by the title and music alone. It's perhaps the saddest moment on the album. When the two headed boy loses his winged love. ‘Holland, 1945’ with its barrage of horns livens things up a bit. A jaunty little number that can’t help but bring They Might Be Giants to mind.

In terms of ballads, you’ll be hard pressed to find one more beautiful than, “Communist Daughter’. Despite sentiments like, “semen stains the mountaintops”. By contrast, ‘Oh Comely’ is the album’s most sparse and brooding moment. Amid the psycho-sexual stream of conscious lyricism, a picture emerges of true of heartbreak and loss. The repeated line, “Hang for your hollow ways,” not only hints at betrayal but bitterness. Going to show there is something of substance beneath the surface of Aeroplane ’s seeming whimsy.

The driving ‘Ghost’ brings us into the home stretch. An oddly inspiring song about death and regret. “I know she will live forever”, Mangum intones amidst blasts of warped horns and gritty guitars. It is the epitome of all Aeroplane has to offer. 

The instrumental ‘Untitled’ with its Celtic uilleann pipes ushers us to the final track, ‘Two Headed Boy Pt. 2’. Less a reprise, than a rueful farewell to the object of Mangum’s affections. The last sound you hear is Mangum bumping his guitar as he gets up to leave. And after releasing this opus, that's exactly what Mangum did. He’s made sporadic appearances over the years and released an EP but this was the end of Neutral Milk Hotel and Mangum appears to have no plans to record a follow-up. It's just as well. There’s no repeating this kind of magic. A magic that can only be re-lived by listening to this bizarre, hauntingly beautiful record. There really is nothing else like it. Truly, one of a kind. Its hard to believe this was released nearly 21 years ago. Its sounds just as timeless and fresh today as it did then. An indisputable classic.

Overall Rating (1)

5 out of 5 stars
  • Rated 5 out of 5 stars

    Kevin - Great spot on review of this one. I don't listen to it much anymore, but anytime I do I always wonder why I don't more. It's a true classic and touchstone as you point out. I only recently heard that Holland 1945 may be about Anne Frank, so always something new to unfold with this one.

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