Review Summary: In the Aeroplane Over the Sea is one of the best albums I have heard. It's got a sound of it's own, and more magical moments than you can shake a stick at.
In the Aeroplane Over the Sea is an album that has achieved almost legendary status among fans of indie, folk, or really, any kind of music. It is ever present in "Best of" lists and is widely regarded as a classic. There are very few albums that receive this kind of praise and even fewer that deserve it. This is one that deserves it.
The driving force behind Neutral Milk Motel is Jeff Mangum, who does all of the guitar work and vocals, and the vast majority of the songwriting. There are 8 other musicians, which include a drummer and a variety of horns, but make no mistake, this is Mangum's record.
The most unique aspect of Mangum's songwriting is his lyrics, which are often bizarre and nonsensical when taken at face value, but usually hold deeper messages when examined closely. The lyrics are often quite beautiful and at times can be quite touching. The majority of them deal with love and religion but the Holocaust also appears to be a major theme as Holland, 1945 is about Anne Frank and numerous other songs have lines that could be related to the Holocaust. They may take a while to get into but the lyrics are definitely one of the strongest points of the album.
Mangum's other major contribution is his vocals, which fall pretty much into the love/hate category. While he is really only an average singer, he has a couple little quirks that make him very enjoyable to listen to. Mangum often attempts to hit notes which are clearly out of his range, but instead of sounding awful, it gives Mangum a unique sound and adds more emotion to the songs. The vocals are probably the least accessible part of the album but they grow on you quickly when given time.
As far as the music goes, it's not technical in any sense but it does what it needs to do. Mangum's guitar playing is largely composed of standard folk chord progressions with very little variation. While this won't inspire you to break out the air guitar, it gels perfectly with Mangum's voice. The drummer is quite good when he shows up, and the horn section is good as well. Basically, everybody keeps it simple and does only what they need to do.
This is one of those rare albums where every song has something to offer. Two Headed Boy and Two Headed Boy Pt. 2, my personal favorites, feature Magnum and his guitar only, with no drums or horns. Both songs are beautiful in their own way and feature the best vocals on the album. The duo that opens the album, The King of Carrot Flowers and The King of Carrot Flowers Parts 2 and 3, are also amazing, the former being the "folkiest" song on the album and the latter being one of the more up-tempo songs. Another song of note is Holland, 1945, which is the most accessible song here and would likely be the best song to get if you are unsure about getting this album.
Despite all of the already mentioned positives of this album, what makes it a classic is the amount of magical moments this album has. There are some moments in music that are just flat out amazing and this album is full of them. The part at the end of Two Headed Boy Pt. 2 where Mangum sings "And when we break/We’ll wait for our miracle/God is a place where some holy spectacle lies/And when we break/We’ll wait for our miracle/God is a place you will wait for the rest of your life" has moved me almost to tears on numerous occasions. Moments like that are sprinkled throughout the album, and that is something that almost no other album can claim.
In the Aeroplane Over the Sea is one of my favorite albums of all time, and one of the few I believe deserve to be called a classic. It sounds like nothing else out there and it has more magical moments than just about anything else. Anybody who is a fan of Indie, Folk, or really any music at all, owes it to themselves to pick up this album.