In honor of Neutral Milk Hotel’s recent announcement of a reunion tour, it is time to put into the spotlight one of modern music’s most celebrated albums, and the greatest indie album of all time.
In the Aeroplane Over the Sea is the pinnacle reflection Neutral Milk Hotel’s James Dean-like career. Though the group only released 2 studio albums (On An Avery Island and In the Aeroplane Over the Sea), Neutral Milk Hotel can be categorized as one of the greatest short-lived bands of our time. To put things in perspective, Pitchfork Media called the Aeroplane “just as catchy as it is frightening.”
The album as a whole is a roller coaster of lo-fi sound, emotion, themes, obscure lyrics, opaque imagery, and a quiet, yet satisfying conclusion. It’s comparable to game changer albums such as R.E.M.’s Automatic for the People or Radiohead’s OK Computer. Complete with references to tragic moments in history (Anne Frank’s story is the focus of some songs on the album), it dares to create such an atmosphere both dark and palpably real. The biggest aspect of the album that makes it so iconic are Jeff Magnum’s intentionally off-key vocals in the songs. Without them, the album would be meaningless because it would sound too normal, less special.
The lyrics of Aeroplane are also noteworthy. They’re complex and personal; interpreting them is like taking someone else’s eyeglasses and placing them on your face, and trying to focus the blur. Magnum’s lyrics may seem foolish (e.g. With pulleys and weights creating a radio played just for two/ in the parlor with a moon across her face, and through the music he sweetly displays silver speakers that sparkle all day/ made for his lover who’s floating and choking with her hands across her face.) It all may seem nonsensical, but it is a special kind of poetry that no other band before could achieve. Neutral Milk Hotel were innovators of music because of multi-layered, open-for-interpretation lyrics.
In fact, this album can be extremely polarizing at first listen because of the strange lyrics, the quivering voice of Magnum, and the overdriven guitars. The point of the album is to keep looking deeper and deeper into its overall existence to understand its true meaning, the purest form of art. Neutral Milk Hotel pours their soul into the listener’s ears as this album plays on through the slower pieces (Communist Daughter and Oh Comely) just as much as it jams like a crazy college party (Holland, 1945 and Ghost.)
Aeroplane is a remarkable recording, one of a kind. Its impact on its genre is magnificent, as the album itself practically created a genre of its own. Not everyone appreciates this album because music taste is a relative. However, it leaves a mark as one of the most influential albums of all time, much like The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper album. For all indie albums of the future, Aeroplane is like the foundation of the future of lo-fi music.