Artist: Neutral Milk Hotel
Album: In The Aeroplane Over The Sea
Label (Year): Merge (1998)
For fans of: Bob Dylan, Modest Mouse, Of Montreal, Small Faces
Words by Theo Kotz
One of those records equally maligned as loved, Neutral Milk Hotel’s second and final album is anything but immediate. The opener is full of the kind of loaded language found throughout the whole album but it’s the first howl of “I love you Jesus Christ” on ‘The King of Carrot Flowers Pts. Two & Three’ that serves as the point that most first-time listeners might turn it off, myself included. Give it time though, and a piece of music full of beautiful and challenging contradiction awaits. Raw guitars bind with warmer flights of fancy from accordions and horns and all play second fiddle to Jeff Mangum’s voice, as harsh and grating as it is tender. It sounds sweet on the whole, while from his subject matter he constructs a dense, pitch-black forest of imagery loosely inspired by a personal reaction to the diary of Anne Frank
The band essentially is songwriter Mangum, one of a group of friends from a small town in Louisiana. Mangum went on to form the Elephant 6 Recording Company including, but not limited to, Of Montreal and The Olivia Tremor Control. Undoubtedly, this record’s lasting impression has surpassed anything else associated with the collective, as shown by the overwhelming love at the shows they’ve played over the last few years, shows that sadly look to have come to an end.
The album is concerned with the stuff of life: love, sex, death, loneliness, joy. And this is why I keep going back to it. It’s the beautiful, ugly time we spend on earth reflected: difficult, fun, heart-breaking, contradictory, and ultimately just fucking good.