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Thursday, December 03, 2015

Neutral Milk Hotel -- In the Aeroplane Over the Sea

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I had this whole review for In the Aeroplane Over the Sea written in my head. The thesis was that singer, Jeff Mangum, wrote lyrics so strange and obtuse for this album that connection with them is impossible. Everyone who has connected to In the Aeroplane Over the Sea over the years (myself included) hasn't connected because of the album's actual content, but because Mangum was able to give the feeling that he had essentially ripped his own fragile, vulnerable heart out of his chest, and entrusted it to the listener for safe-keeping. To a degree, I think that reading is true. Mangum's odd Anne Frank-fascination (she's referenced in roughly half the album's songs) and non-sequitur sexual imagery ("semen stains the mountaintops") could certainly be off-putting...but they're not.
I feel close-connection to In the Aeroplane Over the Sea in conjunction to the two most memorable years of my life, 1999 and 2005. In 1999, the year after the album was released, I spent many late summer afternoons before senior year working at the Winn Dixie, taking lunch breaks in my car, listening to my local college radio station (and future place of employment). I looked forward to KLSU's frequent rotations of Neutral Milk Hotel songs (and pretty much any band with milk in the title...Loudermilk...The Dead Milkmen...they were all good). The fact that the KLSU DJ's frequently gushed about how good the Neutral Milk Hotel album was also boosted my ego, as I also thought it was quite good, and thought that that current batch of KLSU DJ's were the coolest people on Earth...thus our identical opinions further validated my awesomeness (KLSU won a Red Stick award that year for best radio station...which is actually a big deal. It really was an excellent broadcaster that year, and remained one until I started DJ'ing there and the whole thing went off a cliff...I can't believe they let me on the air...also, I just Youtubed Loudermilk after writing that sentence a few back that mentioned them. Holy crap, Loudermilk was a sweet band, why did they break up? Also, KLSU was so ahead of the curve, playing Loudermilk when their only album was self-released, and playing Neutral Milk Hotel ad nauseum way before the cool police said it was the greatest, and playing...really playing just about everything they played that year. Whoever the music director was at that time is legit, and I hope they are doing well for themselves...they certainly weren't there any longer when I stank up the DJ booth). This paragraph had no point other than to allow me to wax nostalgic because this is my Google-owned website and I'll do what I want with it, as long as it's okay with Google, I guess.
In 2005, I actually flew in an airplane over the sea, and I knew I would have to listen to In the Aeroplane Over the Sea when I did so. I actually blogged about that whole thing here a decade ago when I was actually doing it (I love using the same words twice in one sentence). That post is particularly amusing to me because I reference a postI had just written that was highly critical of Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ. Last year, nine years after that Passion-bashing post, having lived through much personal pain, heartache, and depression, and feeling an actual need for salvation and connection with a corporeal incarnation of the creator of the universe, I found my opinion of Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ to have changed considerably. If you've stumbled upon this review through a Google search, thanks Google, and also, this review may be off-putting to you because I have talked about myself far more than I have talked about Neutral Milk Hotel's 1998 masterpiece, In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, and also used constant run-on sentences. But how else do you review an album that is so personal? For every obtuse musing Mangum makes, he gives you a line like How strange it is to be anything at all. How can anyone who has reflected about life for more than five minutes not take lines like that personally? At the end of 2005, when my cat/best friend died, the song with those lyrics was still fresh in my head, and I posted it as his Nicsperiment eulogy.
I don't know what In the Aeroplane Over the Sea is supposed to be about. Something about Mangum's weird dreams about Anne Frank and her family dying, and Mangum somehow magically rescuing her and then living with her happily ever after, but then there're circus freaks and semen and all this other stuff. I do know what In the Aeroplane Over the Sea means to me, though. It means enjoying the beauty of life, and embracing the beauty of sadness, but yet being able to move on from whatever it is that has made you sad. Miraculously, though, In the Aeroplane Over the Sea means something completely and individually different to the other million or so individuals to whom the album is important. I can't pinpoint its everlasting timeless magic other than to say Mangum harnessed a perfect storm of emotion with his rough and gentle, over-taxed voice, and his acoustic guitar and fuzzed-out bass, and his friends' horns and drums and musical saws and whatnot. Every few years the next group up has discovered this magic for themselves. Even the hipsters latched onto it, but hipsters are only interested in aesthetics, and when the aesthetics aren't cool anymore, or their feeble hipster minds grow bored, they move on to the next thing.
When In the Aeroplane Over the Sea was released, Pitchfork merely said it was good, and Rolling Stone dissed it. A few years later, they were both fawning all over it, and it was kind of gross. I felt protective over the album to tell you the truth. When a girl you really like takes off her glasses and lets her hair down, and all the idiots rush to her, but you saw she was beautiful all along, you want to deck all those guys. Sorry for getting so heteronormative. This dude called me heteronormative on an LSU message board the other day, and I was really taken aback, though technicallly, since I am straight and part of a nuclear family, isn't that simply a factual statement?
Anyway, In the Aeroplane Over the Sea is a really special album that invites everyone to love it for their own reasons. I hadn't listened to it in quite a while before writing this review, mainly because my listening schedule has been quite alphabetical for the last four years, unless it's new music I am checking out for the first time. This whole Every Album I Own reviews thing can get a little exhausting, and sometimes I can get really mechanical with it, and my planned review for In the Aeroplane Over the Sea was going to be extremely mechanical, but one listen after many years, and those mechanics were destroyed. I like the visual imagery of literal wrench-holding mechanics in jumpsuits getting crushed by an enormous Neutral Milk Hotel compact disc. That's some crazy stuff. Also, I just went back and read the second Nicsperiment eulogy I gave my cat. I miss Fats so much. This is one of the great albums. Have a good night.

1998 Merge Records
1. The King of Carrot Flowers Pt. One 2:00
2. The King of Carrot Flowers Pts. Two & Three 3:06
3. In the Aeroplane Over the Sea 3:22
4. Two-Headed Boy 4:26
5. The Fool Spillane, Robert Schneider 1:53
6. Holland, 1945 3:15
7. Communist Daughter 1:57
8. Oh Comely 8:18
9. Ghost 4:08
10. Untitled 2:16
11. Two-Headed Boy Pt. Two 5:13

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