In The Aeroplane Over The Sea

Neutral Milk Hotel

Merge, 1998

REVIEW BY: Sean McCarthy


Sincerity is an anomaly in the indie world. There are plenty of tuneless, snide sarcastic artists out there who will pretend to lay their emotions bare, but the cutesy marching band musical ornamentation and novelty costumes adored by some bands make you wonder if everything’s just an act. That was the feeling I got when I first listened to Neutral Milk Hotel’s In the Aeroplane Over the Sea.

The album starts out with the gorgeous, catchy “The King Of Carrot Flowers.” Jeff Mangum’s breezy voice hooks you instantaneously and just as you’re lulled into a complacent head-bobbing bliss, the album takes a sharp turn into “The King of Carrot Flowers Pts. Two & Three” where Mangum’s voice breaks up and he screams “I love you Jesus Chriiiiiiiiiiist.” The vocal is so over the top, you wonder if the song is a satire on religious fanaticism or of Mangum genuinely believes in what he’s singing. It’s a disquieting turn, but the rhythm section kicks in and once again, you’re up in the stratosphere of pop bliss thanks to drummer Jeremy Barnes and Mangum’s guitar. my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

If Mangum’s vocals are an acquired taste, the song “Two-Headed Boy” will most likely be the “make or break” song of the album. If you’re not hooked by this song, it’s more than likely you’ll hit stop and wonder why this album is so revered in the circles of college rock.

Even if In the Aeroplane Over the Sea isn’t your taste, you have to admire its ambition and scope, not to mention its overall sound. Employing such instruments as the flugelhorn, accordion and full brass section may not seem like a big deal now in the era of The Arcade Fire (fellow labelmates) and Sufjan Stevens, but in 1998, when the album was released, it was downright revolutionary.

Mangum said he was inspired after reading Anne Frank’s “The Diary of a Young Girl” to record In the Aeroplane Over the Sea. The album’s dreamy, musty feel make it seem like the album could have been released in the early 40s. Depending on your level of skepticism, you’re either going to trust In The Aeroplane Over the Sea as one of the most heartfelt albums of recent memory or a release by a talented band whose pretentiousness could rival Sting.

Even after a dozen or so listens, I’m still on the fence for In the Aeroplane Over the Sea. I have no qualms about giving the album its due credit for helping get Merge Records on the map (who would later go on to sign such notable acts as The Arcade Fire and Spoon). And I also realize that any alternative band who is now employing the use of brass, bowed banjos and air organs owe a bit of debt to this band.

But that said, In the Aeroplane Over the Sea is probably one of the most recent masterpieces where you’ll find yourself forcing repeated listens to hear what you’re missing, and now with the 2006 re-release you can discover it for yourself.

Rating: B

User Rating: Not Yet Rated


© 2007 Sean McCarthy and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Merge, and is used for informational purposes only.