Posts Tagged ‘jeff mangum’


Neutral Milk Hotel – In The Aeroplane Over The Sea

March 8, 2007

As far as my musical tastes go, I’ve been called a ton of things. Dangerously diverse, too forgiving, critic whore. If theres one thing I hate in this world it’s buying a CD only to realize it’s utter crap. So I tend to take peoples words for it and get what is recommended to me to be the best. And it just so happens that most of the time, the people I know have favorite records that critically acclaimed. And sometimes I do go straight to AMG for ideas. Theres nothing wrong with that. I can’t remember the last time I’ve picked up an AMG album pick and ended up disappointed. I like listening to good music, and I shouldn’t be given a hard time just because my favorites are the favorites of many others as well. I guess I was drawn to this album because I have been told by many people that it is one of the better records of the 90s. So I got it, fucking sue me. Just because I’m not different for the sake of being different like fifty percent of indie rocker fucks doesn’t make me a tool.

I guess the reason why I chose to review In The Aeroplane Over The Sea is because I still don’t quite understand it. Without a doubt this is one of the more immediately weird albums I’ve heard in a while, and yet I do like it a lot. I haven’t completely gotten the chance to get used to it, but I can see why it’s a favorite, and given enough time, I think it could be a favorite of mine as well. I’ve really never heard anything like it at all. If I could liken it into one thing… Shit, this is going to be funny. Pretend that during a dream, life and all of it’s highs and lows was compressed into a compact city from either the very late nineteenth century or very early twentieth century, and you were just jacked up on some kind of happy drug and told to run across the whole damn city in forty minutes. You would probably hear something like this. That may sound pretentious, but there is definitely some kind of powerful, moving feel to this music. It definitely has a weird old fashioned thing going on. The album is spread full with powerful drums and frequent horns, and even the cover art is kind of old fashioned. The liner notes are the same, very antique.

It’s generally a good sign if I feel like, on the first listen, that a record is important. I’ve heard so many things said about this record, that it’s the pinnacle of all modern music, that it’s utter pretentious bullshit, that it’s everything that life is meant to be, etc. And you know, that’s probably all untrue. I could tell it was special and well written from the first time I turned on the record, but even then this is not an inviting listen. Every track has some kind of element that caught me off guard. On the opening King Of Carrot Flowers Pt. 1, I knew I liked the song because I liked the poppy strums and pretty melody, but the lyrics are downright strange, speaking of family issues and sexual discovery that I wasn’t quite sure was going to be the subject of such an innocent sounding tune. King Of Carrot Flowers Pts 2 and 3 was even weirder to me. Now I’ve never been one to be bothered by religious things, but I am very irreligious myself and I felt pretty strange and disassociated when Jeff Magnum wails “I looove youuuu Jeeesuuus Chr-riiiiiiiiiiiiiiiist.” I’m still not quite sure what the hell this means, but it seems too easy to just be a religious nod. And I’m sure people have debated it’s meaning for the past, what, ten years or so. It’s odd. But then the song explodes into a lengthy uptempo stomping rocker, druggy and confused yet undeniably happy.

You know what, pretty much all of the lyrics on this album make no fucking sense at all. And that’s okay! Actually, that’s good. I don’t like being told lessons. And this is open enough to interpretation enough to still be interesting after repeated listens. Sure, some songs are pretty straightforward, about love and pained childhoods. But songs like Holland, 1945 are very odd in their meaning. But you know me, I like spontaneity. Shit, I practically live for it, and I enjoy that song a lot. Holland, 1945 is easily the radio pick from the album if there is one at all. The beat is once again stompable, and the lyrics are anthemic and fun. I’m not sure what it’s about, because it seems to jump around to different people lyrically, but it’s just a fun, catchy, energetic, and happy song. But the strong tracks here are not few; the song In The Aeroplane Over The Sea is pretty as well, and dense and momentous enough to deserve the title of the album. The trumpets and horns are once again used very effectively, and it’s just a really nice melody that kind of talks about life with all of it’s dreamy glory. I think the only problem anyone could have with this is the vocals, and surprisingly enough I didn’t have a problem with them at all at first, and I’m the kind of person whose mood can immediately turned sour even at slightly annoying vocalists. He doesn’t have exactly a great voice, but it sure doesn’t get in the way and it works well to add the intended whimsical, silly feeling.

But the album has some very tender moments that make it as fun as it is serious. While Two-Headed Boy may have nonsensical lyrics, they are also pretty, and the tune is a very touching strum. It is also pretty impressive how quickly the album can shift from one mood to another. Holland 1945 ends with an abrasive explosion of sound that segues very effectively into Communist Daughter, a quiet ballad, which quickly turns strange when “semen stains the mountaintops.” It should be noted that the album is one big symphony of a song, and the transitions from song to song are very continuous and melding, giving Aeroplane more of a coherence as an album. But the home stretch of songs is achingly beautiful and fun at the same time, usually a combination that doesn’t settle well. But Magnum does it and creates a fun but very touching conclusion with the triple attack of Ghost, an untitled collage of sound, and Two Headed Boy Pt. 2.

I can definitely see why this is so popular among indie rockers, and I think it’s growing on me at a rate that it will be one of my favorites pretty soon. By no means is it an easy album to understand; I’m still having a hard time getting at ease with it even months later, but there really isn’t a weak track on the album, and every song does something to contribute to the whole. This was clearly intended to be the band coup de grace, considering they never actually followed it up and there is enough of a momentous, concluding atmosphere to merit this being the end of the band. You’ve never heard something dealing with issues such as life, death, love, and sexuality with as much contrasting tenderness and fun. If you haven’t heard it, give it a shot. You will probably either love it or hate it, but that’s a risk you should be willing to take.