It seems like every website I run into Neutral Milk Hotels In the Aeroplane Over the Sea
is receiving some sort of praise. Rate Your Music is one website I often retreat to whenever I want to read reviews and it claims that the album is the best released in the year of 1998. Pitchforkmedia is another website that is in love with In the Aeroplane Over the Sea
handing it a beautiful ten out of ten score, something that rarely occurs on such a conservative and hip site. Even our very own Sputnikmusic has given it a collected 4.5/5 star rating. No matter how hard I try I still cannot possibly see why this album is so popular and well loved by indie fans and critics. But before you start making preposterous comments about the appalling rating I have just handed out just give me some time to explain myself.
The first thing that caught my attention while listening to In the Aeroplane Over the Sea
was the opening track King of Carrot Flowers Pt.1
, it’s un-doubtfully a gem. A strummy acoustic plays an extremely addicting melody while Mangum sings away with his high pitched, slighly irish-esque voice. Once the steeple sounding organs make their way into the song it hits a quick yet sweet climax and promptly comes to a close. This was a very promising opening to an album, the song was short, catchy, fun, and contained some odd yet quirky instrumentation. I even enjoy the next tune, King of Carrot Flowers Pts 2&3
. Throughout the first thirty seconds or so you are greeted with Jeff Mangums ear aching voice shouting out “[i]I love you Jesus Christ[/I"]. For some this ruined the whole listening experience and for others made them burst into tears because they couldn’t contain their laughter. As for me it did absolutely nothing, I think I might have cringed the first time because Magnums voice is so dreadfully stale and bitter. However the real meat of the song consists of the third part where the music turns into a complete fuzz fest of guitars, drums, and bass. Folk-punk at its finest. Contrary to the lackluster rating the first two tracks represent the album quite well and are definitely enjoyable listens.
I find that In The Aeroplane Over the Sea
begins to melt down with the title track, and the mid-section is just a completely snoozefest with one exception. The title track is three and a half minutes of Mangum with his acoustic, some occasional sweeping noises make their way into the song as well as those signature organs. It’s not exactly a bad song but it doesn’t really do anything, it posses a nice groove yet doesn’t really go anywhere. The catchy acoustic hook is fun to listen to but the music remains predictable not to mention the fact that Magnums voice is bored and uninteresting. Two Headed Boy
is up next and seems like it’s just everyone’s favorite. Contrary to popular opinion I think that it’s a horrible song with little to no redeeming qualities. As for the production it is stale,rusty and it almost sounds like it could have been recorded in an old barn. Slints Don, Aman
is quite similar to this song since both use one simple guitar and no percussion to build up a climax, the only problem with Two Headed Boy
is that Mangum goes from shrill shouting to hushed quietness without any direction. The guitar is highly repetitive and does not posses an eerie, depressing or haunting feel, it’s just a flavorless chime. I’ll give credit to Jeff for writing some very poetic lyrics but solid lyrics don’t make good songs. Clocking in at just under two minutes The Fool
can easily be useless filler. It’s comprised of some gloomy brass instruments that play on as if someone has just passed away. As the music slowly builds up more brass instruments make their way into the song and then it quickly comes to a close. The Fools
muddy and depressing atmosphere doesn’t do much as the song is just a brief instrumental.
While I’m on a roll talking about the negative aspects of In the Aeroplane Over the Sea
I’ll keep it up and get to the positive stuff towards the end. Communist Daughter
is another tune that falls just under the two minute mark. Mangum puts on his best Nick Drake impression as he sings in a deep, gentle voice that matches up well with the foggy atmosphere and acoustic chiming. Towards the end of the song there is some cool trumpet part and then the music comes to an end. Communist Daughter
isn’t a bad song it’s just way to short and it could have done without the windy effects. However the longest and most ridiculous song off of the album would have to be Oh Comely
. While it is very well written lyrically it is both repetitive and jarring musically. Oh Comely
is eight minutes long and it is comprised of a skeletal guitar line that basically repeats itself throughout the tune. Jeff Mangums voice is obviously the main focus of the song but it just doesn’t fit in with the music. He whines, shouts, growls and whispers into the microphone sounding like an old crazy man that should be locked up in an insane asylum. His voice is shrill, high-pitched and tedious contributing nothing to the music but a loud ruckus. It wouldn’t be so bad but the song never comes to an end and you wind up hearing the same music for eight minutes. Neutral Milk Hotel take all of the elements that I dislike about In the Aeroplane Over the Sea
and put them all into Oh Comely
Now remember, I did give this album an average score so there are some very well done songs off the album. Hell, Holland, 1945
is pure awesomeness. It’s a fuzzy, loud and drum heavy tune consisting of....well fuzzy guitar sounds and drumming. Mangum shouts about Anne Frank throughout the song and although I generally dislike his voice it fits in well with the catchy yet chaotic fuzzfest. Ghost
is another simple yet effective tune. There’s some kind of odd, apocalyptic background noise that fits in well with the quick drumming and light acoustic chiming. Towards the middle of the song there are some bagpipes used which create a slightly depressing yet compelling sound. Ghost
is nothing amazing, but is still a fun listen. Even the untitled track is worth listening to, bagpipes, electronic effects, and some distorted drumming play throughout the instrumental and although it’s not meant to do much it’s a nice, unique piece of music.
I’ve listened to In the Aeroplane Over the Sea
at least thirty times or so. There are two main aspects of the album which I just dislike and bluntly could never understand. First of all what’s up with Jeff Mangums voice? Unlike other folk artists like Nick Drake and Bill Callahan his voice is high-pitched, very out of tune, and jarring. When Magnum yells into the microphone it almost makes me cringe, especially in the slower songs such as Oh Comely
and Two Headed Boy
. I suppose his voice is quite emotional yet I still don’t see how that exactly makes it listenable. The second problem I have with In the Aeroplane Over the Sea
is how stale and bland it is. Don’t get me wrong, albums such as Spiderland
and Pink Moon
posses an eerie and depressing nature while being propelled by mostly guitars, but Neutral Milk Hotel don’t create a scary atmosphere or a deep, haunting album. Simple music can be very effective and emotional, but In the Aeroplane Over the Sea
has an extremely murky and stale sound almost as if it were recorded in an old, damp basement.
Although I enjoy many indie/folk bands such as Pavement, Slint, and The Microphones I am not a Neutral Milk Hotel fan. It’s pretty obvious that Jeff Mangums lyrics prove that he is an excellent songwriter as he covers sexuality, death, and religion. Unfortunately lyrics aren’t the main reason why I listen to music and I’m sure most of you reading this wouldn’t consider an album good just because of its lyrical content. In the Aeroplane Over the Sea
is brought down by lengthy, repetitive songs (“Oh Comely”), poor production(“Two Headed Boy”), useless filler (“The Fool”), stale vocals (“In The Aeroplane Over the Sea") and brief folk interludes (“Communist Daughter”.) While there are some excellent tracks that definitely keep the album from being a complete mess there are way to many duds that bring it right back down. I honestly wonder why music critics find this piece of work so marvelous? In the Aeroplane Over the Sea
isn’t fun, unique, interesting, or mysterious. It’s your typical indie/folk with a hint of insanity added by Jeff Mangums bitter and inconsistent vocal performance.