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Reclaimed: Neutral Milk Hotel – In the Aeroplane Over The Sea

Filed in Music News and Reclaimed 2 comments

nmh Reclaimed: Neutral Milk Hotel   In the Aeroplane Over The Sea
We started this feature months ago here on ENS, but with only one article so far, it’s a nice time to revive it. Here is our second “Reclaimed” feature, written by ENS contributor Dave Tobias.

The late 1990s are not exactly known as a fertile ground for intelligently crafted music. Other than the landmark that was OK Computer, the rap rock craze was sweeping the nation, and Creed was one of the preeminent powers of rock. But in a small town in Georgia, a collective known as Elephant 6 was creating some pretty interesting art. And out of that group in 1998 came In The Aeroplane Over The Sea, a strange, challenging piece of music penned by Jeff Mangum under the band name Neutral Milk Hotel.

While the popular music of the time was rather juvenile, In The Aeroplane Over The Sea was anything but. Grappling with themes of death and despair, Mangum drew inspiration from the story of Anne Frank and weaved together a masterpiece of psychedelic folk that is unparalleled to this day. The sound is best described as a marching band on acid, and the lyrics are as grotesque as they are moving. Imagery abounds. Mangum’s voice quivers with emotion as no other singer can express. At the core, the songwriting is superb; artists from Phish to Brand New to Broken Bells have covered various tracks. Local standout Peter Adams even covered the album in its entirety. All of this is to say that the breadth of the album reaches far beyond classification, and truly puts it in a league of its own.

A lot has been made of In The Aeroplane Over The Sea in recent years, and rightfully so. There are touches of its influence all over modern music. Obvious starts include the literary folk of The Decemberists and The Mountain Goats, to metaphorical storytellers such as Conor Oberst, Sufjan Stevens, and James Mercer. Mangum is often christened the godfather of the modern freak folk movement, playing heavy influence on artists such as Devendra Banhart and Animal Collective. Listen to the heavy drone at the end of “Communist Daughter” and you can even hear the underpinnings of contemporaries like Sonic Youth and Yo La Tengo. Limiting the discussion of this album’s brilliance to artists it has influenced, however, does not do the LP justice.

Where In The Aeroplane Over The Sea succeeds most is in its singular nature. By using sounds such as singing saws and junkyard horns, Mangum envelops the listener, transporting him/her to another world. This works perfectly with the rich, metaphorical, and often sickening stories Mangum tells of life, death, beauty, perversion, and destruction. Nothing is cliché and nothing is off limits. Does it make the listener uncomfortable? Certainly. Scared? A little. But loving this album means wading in that uncertainty until suddenly, there’s a revelation of rushing warmth. It is not trapped in a time or place; In The Aeroplane Over The Sea creates a world in which it alone exists. Very few albums are as rewarding or unique in that way.


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 Reclaimed: Neutral Milk Hotel   In the Aeroplane Over The Sea


Joe started ENS in 2003 after most people he wanted to talk to about music were worn thin by his ramblings. The outlet this site provided helped out, and somehow is still going 9 years later. After a four year stint as a WOXY DJ, Joe returned to Cincinnati and continues to pioneer ENS. In addition to the overall look and feel of the site, Joe provides regular reviews, and kinda makes sure this whole thing stays afloat.

Posted by Joe Long   @   30 August 2010 2 comments


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