I will analyse an album from each of 2008, 1998, 1988, 1978 and 1968 and try to explain why you should give them a shot.
This week I will try to convince you to listen to Neutral Milk Hotel’s classic 1998 album In the Aeroplane over the Sea.
On the surface, In the Aeroplane over the Sea is a simple record. A large chunk of the album is essentially Jeff Mangum singing over basic acoustic guitar chords.
But there are some other things you should know.
For starters, Mangum’s voice is a bit of an acquired taste. He has a Dylan-esque twang which he pushes to its absolute limits, regularly sending him off key.
When the rest of the band kicks in behind Mangum, they sound like they were recorded in an outhouse.
The core music is accompanied by old-word instrumentation such as singing saws, horns, accordions and more.
After about a million listens I still can’t work out Mangum’s message. However, it’s clear the lyrics are loosely based on The Diary of Anne Frank, hardly
high-brow literary fodder.
If those facts haven’t turned you away, congratulations, you’re in for a treat. Because In the Aeroplane over the Sea is one of the best albums I’ve heard.
All the aforementioned quirks coalesce into a cohesive and downright moving record.
It helps that Mangum passionately delivers lines of pure poetry. On the title track he croons:
“One day we will die, and our ashes will fly from the aeroplane over the sea. But for now we are young, let us lay in the sun and count every beautiful thing we can see.”
On the rollicking Holland, 1945, his imagination shines through as he pictures Anne Frank reincarnated:
“Now she’s a little boy in Spain, playing pianos filled with flames.”
And on the opener, King of Carrot Flowers Pt. 1, he drops:
“In this room one afternoon, I knew I would love you. And from above you how I sank into your soul. Into that secret place where no one dares to go.”
In the Aeroplane over the Sea quickly gained cult status, then widespread acclaim, then a mythology which overwhelmed the band.
As his music inspired the next generation of indie superstars such as Arcade Fire, Mangum retreated from the spotlight completely and Neutral Milk Hotel has never released a follow-up.