What we’re listening to (#14): ‘In the Aeroplane Over the Sea’ by Neutral Milk Hotel

This is a strange one for me – if you take a look back at what I’ve written about on here over the past year, In the Aeroplane Over the Sea really doesn’t fit in with anything – I’ve talked about hip-hop, blues, rap-metal, soul, garage-rock, indie, britpop et cetera et cetera. I think it’d be wrong to simplify this album and put it into the folk genre, since it’s so much more; it’s an emotionally distraught 40 minutes (the good kind).

Obvious standouts include the title track – at first glance the lyrics seem twisted and fucked up, take the following:

“Oh how I remember you,
how I would push my fingers through
your mouth to make those muscles move”

The whole album is eclectic in the same kind of sense, but he’s speaking and singing in compassion, talking about the awkward intimacies of love, whilst eerie saws fly in the background, driven by the simple progression on the acoustic guitar.

Anyone who’s already listened to album will also know about the constant references to Anne Frank throughout the song, from the direct in ‘Holland, 1945’, where the distorted guitars punch you in the teeth whilst the drums sock you in the stomach, and to the more subtle, like in ‘Oh Comely’.

The song’s actually quite depressing, with Jeff Mangum singing “will she remember me 50 years later? I wished I could save her in some sort of time machine”. For most of the 8-minute song, his voice and the once again simple guitar progression drags the song forward, with his voice taking to different octaves to give that strong sense of sorrow which is signature on the album as a whole. The trumpet and violin that sporadically join in towards the end took me by surprise, and it actually did send shivers down my spine.

This album’s received its share of criticism, but it’s stood the test of time so far, and will likely do so for a while.

This article was written by Mo Hafeez


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