Saturday, February 16, 2008

Looking Back On In the Aeroplane Over the Sea

Earlier this week, it came to my attention (through a particular web site) that ten years have passed since Neutral Milk Hotel’s landmark sophomore (and, as of now, final) album, In the Aeroplane Over the Sea. I usually stick to sounding off on new music, largely because once I look back over the years and try to pick one album to write about I end up wanting to discuss everything. I have to limit myself, so I essentially shoot for one new-music review a week. However, I couldn’t resist honoring Aeroplane on its tenth anniversary.

Honestly, I never much liked the Elephant 6 sound. I mean, I don’t dislike it, but it has never been my cup of tea. I like the start of the one Olivia Tremor Control record, but then I lose interest during the eight billion different “Green Typewriters.” Save for that awesome 11-minute track in the middle of their last album, I have never liked Of Montreal that much, in part because I find artists with a live show as extravagant as theirs to be somewhat gimmicky and indulgent. I like Apples in Stereo a bit more, but nothing life-changing there.

Yet, I can’t resist In the Aeroplane Over the Sea. I don’t think it’s quite the perfect masterwork its devoted followers do, but it’s both incredibly distinct and tremendously moving, packed with songs relatively simple but immensely captivating. On first listen, it’s an album catchy enough to draw you back for a second, third, and fourth listen, but it possesses an emotional underbelly that you’ll wanna come back to time and time after that. In some ways, the record is almost indescribable; I guess I would qualify this music somewhere in between lo-fi indie pop and folk, but listen to it, and there’s so much more.

Of course, this is record is worshipped in the indie community, so you more than likely know it like the back of your hand and don’t need me to tell you why it kicks ass. Unless you really know what you’re talking about (which I, admittedly, do not) it’s hard to shine any new critical light on the oft-written-about Aeroplane. Still, trying to formulate a formal declaration of this record’s greatness isn’t nearly as necessary or interesting as describing how you felt when you first heard it, detailing the way in which “King of Carrot Flowers, Part 1” grabbed you and refused to let you go until Jeff Mangum gently lay his guitar to rest after “Two Headed-Boy Part 2.”

In the Aeroplane Over the Sea is actually one of my brother’s favorite records ever, so his playing the title track and “Holland 1945” in the living room familiarized me with the material before I ever heard the album itself. I’m not gonna say I was overwhelmed by what I heard, but I was intrigued, so I borrowed his copy and spend a few days straight spinning it on the iPod. You have to understand, whenever I hear an album that’s considered a “classic” by critics and fans I sort of instinctively and even subconsciously try to find a reason why the album shouldn’t be placed in the same category as my all-time favorites. Usually, I warm up to the “classics” over time, with only the occasional record really baffling me as to the strength of its critical status.

This record was neither a work to which I needed to warm up nor one I discarded and slapped with an “overrated” tag. Aeroplane works immediately, and in every way. Everything carries instant appeal, everything from the melodies to the chord progressions to the gripping lyrics (loosely based around the tragic fate of Anne Frank) to what I call the “Mangum Scream.” The Scream really did it for me, in fact, the way Mangum can, paradoxically, sing wildly and uncontrollably and sing beautifully at once. There’s something really powerful, some great aesthetic value, about making order and music out of chaos, channeling some inner primal fury into a harmonious medium. In short, whenever I hear Mangum holler “I love you Jesus Chri-i-i-i-i-i-i-ist!” or “Choking with her hands across her fa-a-a-ce!” I’m blown away. He’s an uncanny, inspired, unrestrained musician, and few indie singer/songwriters pre- or post-NMH have ever matched his emotional fervor.

It’s fun to discuss who the next “It” band may be, which forthcoming album will stand among the year’s elite. However, it’s nice to look back at the forefathers of modern indie music, and, most of the time, listening to an album like this for the 50th time will beat hearing a whole year’s worth of fresh records anyway. It’s that good, that replayable, that timeless. My musical tastes have diverged greatly over the last year or so, to the point where I listen to more hip-hop, electronic music, and post-rock than I do alternative or indie rock. In the Aeroplane Over the Sea is one of the albums that always draws me back to indie pop, a near-flawless work, and one for which I continue to pray for a much-needed sequel.


Andrew said...

Of Montreal's live shows are hilariously awsome and so is that album and so am I

Joey (reasonableman616) said...

the of montreal comment wasn't really the point of the post, but okay. and, yes, you are awesome

Erik said...

andy is awesome, no doubt about it. and i disagree with their being an "elephant 6 sound," really, all of the bands sound different.

Joey (reasonableman616) said...

again, that brief paragraph really wasn't the main point of the post. jeez

Andrew said...

Can you maybe elaborate on what you meant about Apples in Stereo? That really bothered me.

Joey (reasonableman616) said...

I love that song they did for the powerpuff girls soundtrack