Neutral Milk Hotel
In the Aeroplane Over the Sea


5.0
classic

Review

by Misshaped USER (1 Reviews)
February 25th, 2013 | 59 replies | 2,088 views


Release Date: 1998 | Tracklist

Review Summary: An eccentric but sincere indie rock classic.

5 of 5 thought this review was well written

If any record could be accused of being undermined by its own critical reverence, “In the Aeroplane…” could definitely be a contender. A great majority of twenty-something, emaciated, thick-rimmed Brooklynites would tell you that this LP is indie music’s magnum opus, a New Testament for the Pitchfork generation, the apex of the lo-fi movement. These people should be immediately disregarded, not because “Aeroplane” is a bad record – it certainly isn’t in any shape or form. It’s simply that this type of thinking leads to a manner of closed-mindedness that has plagued every generation’s posse of critic. It’s this myopic need possessed by a great deal of the music press to place every song, album, band, bass line (and forever so forth) into list-form under the pretence of finding the best thing of a thing since the creation of all things - it’s dishonest. Absolute statements should not be made unless the author of these statements has an absolute knowledge of their subject (Strangely enough, some writers have the gall to assume this of themselves). The worth found in any kind of art is subjective and the critic’s own praise is relative.

That all said, “In the Aeroplane…” succeeds because it manages to embody a great deal of the qualities which cause the modern alternative rock critic to salivate. A main one of these is how the record simultaneously sounds traditional and folky whilst never faulting to appear consistently exotic and unknowable. A lot of this is achieved through front-man Jeff Mangum’s surrealist and evocative imagery. During the album’s 39 minutes and 55 seconds, references are made to synthetic flying machines, carrot flower monarchs, and two-headed boys.

Despite the inherent weirdness of Mangum’s prose, it often succeeds in creating or drawing on some sort of mood. The title track alone elicits feelings of joy, grief, nostalgia, and careless celebration. The whole of “Aeroplane” is an unwaveringly intense listen, which is also why it evokes strong opinions from both the lovers and haters of the album. Many are put off by Mangum’s reedy singing voice, which while often shows an impressive lung capacity, can be quite grating at times (especially in “Oh Comely”).

Others may find fault in the sheer business of tracks like “King of Carrot Flowers, Part 2 and 3”, “Holland 1945”, and “Ghost”, which to the fresh ear can sound noisy and monotonous, though to others are joy to pick apart. The musicianship of the record has also been criticised by some, describing the chord structures and time signatures as basic or even amateurish. However, elitists such as these should probably have their knuckle rapped for treating the listening of music like maths.

The simplicity of the song arrangements do nothing to detract from the record, and can hardly be described as trite or uninspired. In fact, they contribute to the LP’s aesthetic of being rather strange to an unsettling degree yet maintaining an undeniably sincere emotional centre that so many cooler-than-thou indie bands of the time lacked.

The three tracks “Holland 1945”, “Communist Daughter”, and “Oh Comely” are where the album’s much toted influence from the diary of Anne Frank s most apparent. Holland 1945, the fastest paced and poppiest song on the record, vaguely details the events of Frank’s final year and begins with the bizarre but blunt “The only girl I’ve ever loved/Was born with roses in her eyes/But then they buried her alive/One evening, 1945”. The track then descends into complete chaos, with horns blaring and the band struggling to keep up with Magnum’s hysterical and arresting vocals. It’s absolutely thrilling.

In contrast, “Communist Daughter” strips everything back, Magnum even sounds like the producer has slipped a couple of Valium in his drink before recording. His tired, almost spoken word rendition of the line “Semen stains the mountain tops” directs the listener’s thoughts to the infamous behaviour of Russian soldiers during the last few months of World War Two. By holding back and choosing not to expand on or explain the lyrics in an on-the-nose fashion, Magnum shows his maturity and skill as a lyricist. “Communist Daughter” reminds us that evil acts can bring life as well as death and works as a stark parallel to “Holland 1945”. “Oh Comely” is the epic centrepiece of the record and brings the narrative to the present day, where Magnum imagines that time is not linear and wishes that he had the power to correct past wrongs, and that sadly, there isn’t any sort of time machine that can do that.

Though “In the Aeroplane…” did not set the world on fire when it was first released, its popularity grew during the resulting years until it finally became the iconic monolithic record that it’s treated by many today. Many of the current main-players of the alternative scene have roots in the album, such as Arcade Fire, The Decemberists, Animal Collective, Wolf Parade, and Sunset Rubdown. Though it is a shame that Neutral Milk Hotel imploded a few years after “In the Aeroplane”, the record accomplishes so much in it’s brief run-time that it doesn’t warrant a follow-up.


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Comments:Add a Comment 
BallsToTheWall
February 24th 2013



44197 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Just what the doctor ordered.

Digging: My Chemical Romance - Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge

Jacquibim
Contributing Reviewer
February 24th 2013



14093 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

I guess I just don't get this album, and I tried hard to like it.

Great first review though, pos'd.

Digging: We Will Fail - Verstrung

Gwyn.
February 24th 2013



15018 Comments


"I guess I just don't get this album, and I tried hard to like it.

Great first review though, pos'd."

That's kinda the problem I always see some people having

Stop trying to like it, let the music do that for you

Not every music is for everyone though

Digging: diSEMBOWELMENT - Transcendence into the Peripheral

YankeeDudel
February 24th 2013



9311 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Its good. Dont understand why its so incredibly gigantically mammothly huge though. Its not like it did anything new to my knowledge. Just a great indie/psych folk album. I guess the lyrics? idk i dont pay attention.

Digging: Soundtrack - Heavy Metal

DirtBagDan
February 24th 2013



582 Comments


great review. best of today.

Misshaped
February 24th 2013



10 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

"I guess I just don't get this album and I tried hard to like it.
Great first review though, pos,d.
Thanks, I'm not used to writing reviews so praise or criticism is appreciated.
I think what a lot of people like about this album is that it's pretty hard to get one's head around what each song is about. Usually, in pop music (and yes for all their strangeness, NMH do follow a pop template when it comes to songwriting) it's pretty clear what the artist is trying to achieve during the first few listens. This isn't the case with In the Aeroplane, it's ambigious without seeming directionless or vague to make up for vapidity. It's clear from the get go that Mangum is a pretty inspired guy who writes songs to explore his ideas rather than writing songs for the sake of writing songs. Which could be why he hasn't released anything since.
In short: stick with it (some of my favourite albums have taken a year or so before fully clicking with me, this being one of them), but if it doesn't float your boat then don't worry, there's plenty of other great music out there.

TheNexus100
February 24th 2013



2518 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

4got abt this record

Misshaped
February 24th 2013



10 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

"Its good. Dont understand why its so incredibly gigantically mammothly huge though. Its not like it did anything new to my knowledge. Just a great indie/psych folk album. I guess the lyrics? idk i dont pay attention."
I couldn't explain why either, music is an incredibly subjective thing. It may just be a perfect storm of a multitude of things (the record's short runtime, the strength of songwriting, the straightforwardness of melodies, and the lack of hype when it first appeared) that has allowed it to resonate with people.
From a detached viewpoint, there's very little genuinely special about it, but we can say that about a lot of records. It does what it does well and it feels pretty honest and unassuming.

Misshaped
February 24th 2013



10 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

"great review. best of today"
Is that so? The bar must be set incredibly low.

ADM20
February 24th 2013



48 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Excellent review of an excellent album.

Gwyn.
February 24th 2013



15018 Comments


I guess the lyrics? idk i dont pay attention.


Partly, yeah

It has nothing to do with the music, which is pretty good on it's own, it's about the life and emotions of a sad man transfered into music, which is really what music is about

TheNexus100
February 24th 2013



2518 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

nobody has any clue what jeff was talking abt besides the few references to anne frank

Misshaped
February 24th 2013



10 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

I would say it has a lot to do with the music, and how it fits the tone and meaning behind the lyrics perfectly. I do agree with you that it's an album fuelled by man who has an amazing grasp of his ideas and emotions (as well as a unique way of communicating them), which is very rare. One of the few contempory examples I can think of is Matt Beringer from The National.

TheNexus100
February 24th 2013



2518 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

i know what berninger is talking about


i do not know what jeff is talking about

Misshaped
February 24th 2013



10 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

"Nobody has any clue what Jeff was talking abt besides the few references to Anne Frank" 
I can see what you mean there but his lyrics are often understandable in some way, whilst not always making logical sense, 
he's able to communicate his emotional state pretty clearly through a metaphor. Beringer has a similar skill (that line about 
walking with spiders is pretty inspired).
 A good example is the line "I'm a cherry ghost" from Thelogions by Wilco. Tweedy himself has admitted that line doesn't 
mean anything in a practical or logical sense but that it's there because of the effect it has on him as a performer and that is 
also felt by the listener.

ADM20
February 24th 2013



48 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

"nobody has any clue what jeff was talking abt besides the few references to anne frank"

I think this is actually part of the appeal, because that means there isn't one "correct" interpretation. Everyone has their own unique experience.

YankeeDudel
February 24th 2013



9311 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

see im not a lyrics guy. dont really care what hes yappin about.

foxblood
February 24th 2013



6797 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

that's unfortunate

Misshaped
February 24th 2013



10 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

That's fair enough, it'd still be a pretty interesting record if the lyrics were removed, but as you said "just a great indie/psych folk album".

YankeeDudel
February 24th 2013



9311 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

not really fox. i just listen to music for the music mainly.

jeff is a good singer but i dont really care what hes sayin as long as hes sayin it cool.



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