Neutral Milk Hotel
In the Aeroplane Over the Sea


5.0
classic

Review

by Ben Thornburgh CONTRIBUTOR (126 Reviews)
June 3rd, 2013 | 59 replies


Release Date: 1998 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Ben Thornburgh Presents! College Quizes of the Future.

Name: Will Cullen
Date: 4/25/2096

Lessons Learned from Neutral Milk Hotel’s In the Aeroplane Over the Sea

Question 1: Explain how Jeff Magnum transcends acoustic guitar clichés?

To this day when you pull up Neutral Milk Hotel on most people’s iBall this is the album it defaults to. Something about In the Aeroplane Over the Sea seems to really hit people in the gut, it’s just that album for a ton of folks. The one a friend eagerly shoved into their hands and expanded their mind to a whole host of music outside the radio. And yet, at its core, it is a “sensitive dude with an acoustic guitar” album, something that suggests a very boring album, full of long winded odes to lost women and a vague feeling that the guy on the guitar thinks he’s a lot more talented than he really is.

What Jeff Magnum does that oh so many of the people he inspired totally missed is he uses his acoustic guitar as a weapon. The solo acoustic guitar pieces aren’t gentle prettiness, the starkness of the arrangement tears down any semblance of ironic distance, Jeff Magnum is sitting right in front of you and playing his guts out.

On album highlight “Two-Headed Boy” he thrashes and slams into the thing with an unholy fury. He sings with no semblance of technique, pushing his voice into the red over and over. “And I am listening to hee-are where you are!” he cries, “I am listening to hee-are where you ahh-re!!” It’s a bewildering song, one that is wonderfully gratifying to sing along to because that’s how most of us end up singing along to things anyway, improperly and over enthusiastically.

“Oh Comely” contains the fourth wall busting intimacy of “Two-Headed Boy” but instead of making a huge noise, it slowly builds and swells with the restrained madness of a mental ward at night. “Your father made fetuses with flesh licking ladies/While you and your mother were asleep in the trailer park.” There is no looking away from lyrics like that, there is simply nowhere else to run to. It’s just you and Jeff.

And on the tragic finale, “Two Headed Boy Pt. 2”, the emptiness of the arrangement means you have to hear every single tear stained word. “And in my dreams you’re alive and you’re crying/As your mouth/MOOH-ves in mine!/Soft and swee-ee-eet,” lines so heartbreaking they just drop into your stomach like a brick and sit there, “When we break/We’ll wait for our miracle/God is a place/You will wait for the rest of your life.” Man, I got choked up just writing that.

Question 2: How does the instrumentation further the themes of the album?

When vinyl records once again became the dominant physical medium in 2016, this was the first record to clear 500,000 units sold. It’s basically a post-hipster cliché to have a copy of this underneath a crazy overpriced record player but there is more to it than cred. In the Aeroplane Over the Sea is a record that sounds like it belongs in the past. It sounds like a distant past that I suspect never existed. The instrumentation here, singing saws, Salvation Army horns, martial snares, bagpipes, were probably never relevant, this combination of old and broken instruments would probably always have brought to mind some sepia toned past.

While In the Aeroplane Over the Sea indeed takes place in the past, it never wallows in it. This is a scary album, there are no pleasant memories to be found back here. Horns sway wildly, drums rumble through distortion, bagpipes shriek like insanity herself, and everyone plays like the recording studio is on fire. All this terror is underpinning the story of a young Jewish girl who died when she was 15 due to events completely out of her control so the horror is appropriate. All the instruments on the album seem to have clung to her diary and traveled into into the present, with all the bumps and cracks a journey like that would entail.

Quesiton 3: How does Jeff Magnum evoke the story of Anne Frank?

I’m not a nostalgic person. My theory is that childhood was a rapid series of extreme highs and extreme lows, most clip the lows and only want those highs back. But Jeff remembers that childhood was a very scary place too, full of things you did not even begin to understand, the threat of the unknown was everywhere. He manages to acutely tap into that sense of innocent fear that the life and death of Anne Frank feel more vividly realized here than through anything but her very own diary.

Mom is stabbing daddy, rattlesnakes lie strewn about the floor, fruits falling out from holes, fingers pushed through mouths, dogs dissolve and drain away, green fleshy flowers, faces filled with flies, sparks ring, bullets fly, and the whole world screams and falls apart.

This is not innocence. These are not warm and wonderful memories of some perfect past that never existed. This is that time when you were a child and you caught a glance of something you weren’t supposed to. When an adult lashed out at you in anger. The first time you saw your parents afraid. When a stranger looked at you for a little too long. This is fear. This is horror.

In some aspects, the album surpasses even the diary. All the bits about Anne’s sexual awakening were exercised from most of the published journals, but Jeff captures the simultaneous repulsion and fascination with an unmatched wonder. “Smelling of semen all under the garden.” “Fingers in the notches of your spine.” “From above you how I sank into your soul.” “Semen stains the mountaintops.” All unforgettable, all bewilderingly insightful.

We’ve all had this album for so long it’s become part of the indie rock lifeblood. The Church of Jeff Magnum, which was founded by former Decembrists singer Collin Melloy in 2020, is well on its way to becoming less a cult and more a genuine religion. One with a god we all know exists too (Hi-oh!). Then Ryan Schriber, former editor in chief of Pitchfork, was appointed music chancellor of the United States in 2022 and added this album to high school curriculums. Undoubtedly awesome but it had the same effect putting Anne Frank’s diary into school had, it lessens the emotional wallop that lies at its core. After all this admiration and influence, it’s very important to remember one essential thing about this album.

It is about a grown man who is in love with a dead 15 year old.

Think about the incredible amount of bravery it took to actually make this! Jeff had to really put himself out there with these lyrics (“Hey guys I wrote this song about how I want to have sex with Anne Frank! Guys? Guys?”) And that it came out to be something this dignified and spectacular is nothing short of a miracle.

Question 4: Why does this album continue to hold relevance?

Simple. Despite all the instrumentation and lyrics and Jeff Magnum’s uncanny ability to sound like he’s singing straight out of his nasal cavities from time to time, this is an album about themes that never ever age.

As long as humans are obsessed with death and longing, this album will keep its power. Today, tomorrow, next week, next month, all the way up until they figure out how to import our consciousness into our video game consoles.

Question 5: Briefly summarize your thoughts on Neutral Milk Hotel’s 3rd album and unquestionable magnum opus, 2019’s double album The Sun and the People Who Live There, how does it compare to its inferior predecessor?

People thought there would never be another Neutral Milk Hotel album. When one was announced, people assumed it would be a disappointment. To say it is the greatest album of all time would be an understatement, it is without ques-

“Pencils down.”

“Damn.”



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user ratings (3465)
Chart.
4.5
superb
other reviews of this album
1 of
  • Glokta (5)
    Pardon the errors (I'm drunk) but this album has none....

    comissionerrr (5)
    One day we will die and out ashes will fly from the aeroplane over the sea. But for now we...

    madsmoon (5)
    Personal revelations on the greatest album ever....

    H. (5)
    She will live forever, all goes on and on and on...

  • Misshaped (5)
    An eccentric but sincere indie rock classic....

    BrentV (5)
    A beautiful, near-unparalleled masterpiece that, with a blistering vigilance, operatically...

    crandynewman (2)
    Be prepared to be blessed with some of the best lyrics ever written, sung by the worst voi...

    taxidermist (5)
    World War II, Adolf Hitler, the Holocaust, Anne Frank, Neutral Milk Hotel’s magnum opus,...

  • Adam Thomas STAFF (5)
    How strange it is to be anything at all......

    dupuisj8 (5)
    A powerful and human exploration into sound...

    Daniel Merriweather (5)
    In the Aeroplane Over The Sea is not only a cult classic and an exceptional album, but it ...

    Adam Knott EMERITUS (5)
    And your mom would drink until she was no longer speaking, and dad would dream of all the ...

  • Keelan H. EMERITUS (5)
    Some Sort of Time Machine: The Role of Time in a Work of Art, From the View of In the Aero...

    Paul blart (4.5)
    A little too lo-fi for it's own good, but Mangum's baffling mind is completely unfolded he...

    Ben Smith (5)
    In the Aeroplane Over the Sea is one of the best albums I have heard. It's got a sound of ...

    Chris Jackson (2)
    ...

  • Med57 EMERITUS (4.5)
    ...

    (4.5)
    ...


Comments:Add a Comment 
HolidayKirk
Contributing Reviewer
June 3rd 2013


1667 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Hi all!

So, I'm trying to shed some new light on a very, very well trod classic again. This time I'm doing it through 4 separate mini essays, each with their own tone, intro, conclusion, so on so forth.

Suggest edits below and thanks for reading!

Artuma
June 3rd 2013


15471 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0 | Sound Off

interesting. album is one of the best i've ever heard

Artuma
June 3rd 2013


15471 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0 | Sound Off

i should jam this now, it's been like two days since the last time already

Gwyn.
June 3rd 2013


15274 Comments


Daddy please hear this song that I sing
In your heart there's a spark that just screams for a lover to bring, a child to your chest that could lay as you sleep, and love all you have left, like your boy used to be, long ago, wrapped in shiets, warm and wet.


;-;

NoMooreMercy
June 3rd 2013


18 Comments


well written review, I feel this album is horribly overhyped though.

HolidayKirk
Contributing Reviewer
June 3rd 2013


1667 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Fuck! A neg with no comment. :c

Sheaiskl
June 3rd 2013


825 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

nu uh

HolidayKirk
Contributing Reviewer
June 3rd 2013


1667 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Daddy please hear this song that I sing
In your heart there's a spark that just screams for a lover to bring, a child to your chest that could lay as you sleep, and love all you have left, like your boy used to be, long ago, wrapped in shiets, warm and wet.


;-;

^^

https://encrypted-tbn0.gstatic.com/images?q=tbn:ANd9GcQZ7pDlPXB-uWnRfiX_l7jXiN_ksXymsU3BPR0c1qHDdxWL57YQ

Atari
Contributing Reviewer
June 3rd 2013


20077 Comments


sweet album

Digging: Circa Survive - Descensus

Titan
June 3rd 2013


5404 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

lol nice.....pos'd

you're a talented writer with a great imagination

HolidayKirk
Contributing Reviewer
June 3rd 2013


1667 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Thanks

Scoot
June 3rd 2013


17887 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

one of the most overrated albums of all time

Digging: Renounced - The Melancholy We Ache

BroFro
June 3rd 2013


405 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

damn dude.

well done.

Digging: Grade - Separate The Magnets

AliW1993
Contributing Reviewer
June 3rd 2013


7404 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

I like what you're trying to do here, but there are one or two grammatical issues and the futuristic aspect lets it down a little in my opinion.

That said, the paragraph about Two Headed Boy is fantastic, and perfectly summarises how I feel about that song.

HolidayKirk
Contributing Reviewer
June 3rd 2013


1667 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

but there are one or two grammatical issues and the futuristic aspect lets it down a little in my opinion.

^^

Oh mah god. Please please please point them out.

I'll comb now to try and find them but I gave this a proofread before upload so... I shoulda seen them...

YoYoMancuso
June 3rd 2013


11189 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

"iBall"


better and more creative than the chris brown review and that's saying a lot

HolidayKirk
Contributing Reviewer
June 3rd 2013


1667 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Geez you really think so?

Speaking of Chris Brown I've got my eyes on his next album...

Concepts, structures, planning... planning...

Necrotica
June 3rd 2013


10063 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

Two-Headed Boy makes me moist :3

HolidayKirk
Contributing Reviewer
June 3rd 2013


1667 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

It shouldnt, this is like, the least sexy album in history.

Veldin
June 3rd 2013


1527 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

hahah, this was brilliant!



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