64 of 66 people found the following review helpful
on 16 September 2006
I stumbled across this recently. I have to admit that like most people this one had completely passed me by. This is an exceptional album. Utterly exceptional. I can honestly say that this must be one of the best albums I've ever heard. Just such a shame that it has taken so long to get to hear it. How Jeff Mangum didn't make it big I don't know (maybe the bands name!?).
The album is ostensibly a collection of songs inspired by events in World War II and particularly about treatment of Jews and Anne Frank in particular. If this sounds a bit heavy don't worry - musically this work is superbly bright and inventive whilst lyrically it is both fantastically provocative and profound.
Whilst based around the acoustic guitar playing of Mangum, the music benefits from multilayered instumentation including some excellent brass. The pace varies from the slow but heartfelt "Communist Daughter" and "Oh Comely" to the fast rock of "King of Carrot Flowers, Pts 2 and 3" via jazzy interludes of "Holland, 1945". Standout tracks are "Two Headed Boy", "King of Carrot Flowers" and "In the Aeroplane Over The Sea". However all of the tracks here are excellent. Wherever you look on this album there is inventiveness and originality. You can see how this may have influenced later artists as varied as Arcade Fire and Sufjan Stevens.
A wonderful discovery. A definite buy for anyone who likes good music.
10/10. This is by a long way my favourite album. In the few years since I wrote this I really think it's discovery has in many ways affected me and the way I've lived my life. It awakened a passion for music I didn't really know was there. Truly a one off.
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on 27 October 2009
It is entirely possible that you will hate this album, I wouldn't question you if you did and you'd probably have your reasons. The music can be a catastrophe of angular sounds and jangling notes, the singing can be out of tune and raw and the lyrics are nothing short of baffling without serious investigation into the albums ideas.
But I don't know what it is about all of these things coming together that immobilises me from start to finish, unable to think outside the sounds presented to me. Upon first listening I left this album exhausted and with tears in my eyes. It's simply an overwhelmingly significant piece of music, every song being distinct and memorable with enough worthwhile content to write a review ten times the length of this for each one. If by and chance you could like this album then you owe it to yourself to buy it and make sure, because you may be missing out on something that could be very special to you.
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on 24 August 2006
I first heard of Neutral Milk Hotel back in the summer of 1998. In a bar in Victoria, Vancouver Island a locaquious American chap, from Athens GA, was extolling the virtues of this group and their fellow Elephant 6 collective luminaries, Olivia Tremor Control, with evangelical zeal.
8 years on from that back-packing trip, after keeping In the Aeroplane Over the Sea in a holding pattern on the "must buy albums" radar, I finally succumbed to its burgeoning cult status and bought a copy last month.
I think I'm not alone in that I too experienced a tipping-point whereby the hitherto catterwaul of Jeff Magnum's voice, the falling-down-the stairs brass section and seemingly unfussy production suddenly became a majestic and beautiful suite of tunes. The melodies stick like glue and the lyrics, possibly plucked from David Lynch's notepad, are deeply moving. You are probably aware of the Anne Frank storyline and some of the imagery evoked by Magnum's lyrics is a million miles away from the usual pap found in chart twaddle.
If you do buy it, please give it time and be sure to listen to it end-to-end. My only regret is not giving this amazing record permission to land a good few years earlier.
55 of 61 people found the following review helpful
on 31 October 2004
I don't know what has led you to this page, Neutral Milk Hotel are far from a well-known act and so I'm guessing it must either be a sheer stroke of good luck, or you've been given a tip off about it. Either way, your life is about to get better.
It's hard to pigeon-hole where the sound comes from - the other reviewers may do a better job than I will about describing precisely what it's like. The best way I can describe it, I think, is to say that it's discordantly beautiful. There's a near-riot of instruments battling each other for your attention, filling your ears with conflicting sounds but somehow coming out the other end in perfect harmony as they do so. It's also worth noting that it's far from your typically over-produced fare - nobody has spent three days tweaking the drum rhythms to get them precisely right so that they appeal to the widest cross-section of the target audience. Nobody has fiddled with sliders to get his voice spot onto each note. This is raw music, mainlining the melodies, the rhythms, and most of all the emotion straight from source. Joyous, sorrowful, imaginative, perceptive, evocative... it reaches inside you and yanks your soul awake and reminds you that you're alive. Like watching a flower grow in that fast-motion style that can make months pass in seconds - organic, natural, beautiful, and most of all full of the throb and pulse of Life with a capital L.
I just know that I think this is the best album I own, and probably will ever own, and that everybody I know who is fortunate enough to have found In The Aeroplane Over The Sea feels the same way. I don't know what Jeff Mangun did before this, and I don't know what he did after this. Very probably he never hit these heights, but right here on this little silver disc he produces a work of unique unrepeatable genius.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
In The Aeroplane is an album which didn't get much notice when it was first released. But gradually its word of mouth growth has given it a status that is that of a classic album. Listening to it you can struggle to understand why at first and some will dismiss this instantly. However, give it a chance and its a worthy addition to any record library.
Before me get to the album though lets uncover the legend that makes it almost more mythical. NMH are a band headed by Jeff Mangum. They are part of the so called Elephant 6 collective. This is their second album and after touring it for a while Jeff disappeared and the other members went off to form other bands. He resurfaced recently but various tales have him joining the circus, having a breakdown and all sorts. Whatever the truth he just isn't going to follow this up any time soon. Some of the appeal of this album almost certainly stems from that part of the story as much as the music.
So at last to the music. This is a proper album, sequenced and working as a piece. With horns, acoustic guitars and the heartfelt voice of Mangum. This is where bands like Arcade Fire got inspiration. Two Headed Boy is just Mangum and an acoustic guitar that starts at a frenetic rate and as the song continues slows down and reaches a halt at its conclusion. The exact opposite of many other songs you hear that build as they go along. Some songs are just heartfelt and painful (Oh Comely for instance). Others full or instrumentation and life (King of Carrot Flowers Pt 1 for example). Its supposed to be an album about Anne Frank and you heart that at times but the lyrics are very odd and I know some who are turned off by them.
For me I bought this on the word of mouth and have spread that word since. Some people take the chance and love it, other don't. This is certainly a very different album and you may not like it as much as the growing hype would have you believe. However, its a real gem in my opinion and deserves the praise its been given.
19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
on 2 December 2006
Let's be clear about this - this is one of the most astounding records that have ever been made. On the surface of it though it seems unremarkable. Jeff Mangum's voice isn't instantly beautiful, the lyrics seem almost stream-of-consciousness, and the guitar seems primitive and repetitive. And yet every note played and sung on this is perfect. And I don't use that word lightly. This is a weird hypnotic acid trip of a folk-rock record. What initially sounds like a mess of wailing, three-note-strumming and squirted brass band harumphing becomes a fluid organic movement of music so rich and beautiful it makes you ache. In the end this sounds honest - from King of Carrot Flowers Pt 1 to Two Headed Boy Part Two you really do believe every word Mangum wails out. He really wants you to believe him, and you do, even if you can't decipher everything he says. And that is why it is astounding - there are very few records that can move from sounding poor and amateurish, to one of the most moving things ever heard. This is most certainly in my top ten of all time.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 28 August 2008
In The Aeroplane Over The Sea, Neutral Milk Hotel's second album is an album I came to a couple of years ago through the volume of spectacular reviews a came across. Clearly this wasn't the usual over-hyped rock-lite fluff.
Everyone said it was magnificent. Everyone was right.
The difficulty is, I've not come across someone who's really put their finger on why it's so great.
For me, it's the passion with which Jeff Mangum delivers the guitar and vocals. He plays like his life depends on it. Maybe he needed to write the greatest album ever, and this is what came out?
The songs generally stick to a lo fi folky style including backing from a range of strings and brass, with a couple of diversions into scuzzy feedback rock. The two instrumentals are sublime, presenting times to pause and consider what you've just heard. This is especially important as the lyrics are somewhat unfathomable at first.
For me the stand out tracks are both parts of "Two Headed Boy", and the 8 minute epic "Oh Comely". However, other than "Oh Comely", in isolation, none of the songs seem that amazing. Together, they produce one of the greatest albums ever recorded.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 15 November 2006
Jeff Magnum is a bit odd. There's no denying that. We're talking Syd Barrett's "feeding his girlfriend cream crackers under the door" odd. You only have to hear the gloriously shouty vocals on "Two Headed Boy" to confirm his oddness. However just like Barrett there's a cracked genius behind all this.
This is an album on the surface mainly about Anne Frank, but once you've got the gist of what he's trying to say by using this as a metaphor, then you'll get drawn in and be entranced by some of the most moving pieces of music your ever likely to listen to.
The contribution by the musicians he's collected around him sometimes gets underestimated. It's all a bit of a jumble that somehow works as a whole, but your going to have to avoid trying to pigeonhole this into any particular genre, as it just won't fit anywhere.
I came across this only a couple of years ago when it was re-released, but it seems that it's something I've heard before I was born.
If you've got it you'll understand what I'm prattling on about. If you haven't got it, then shame on you.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
This is a monumental discovery that seems to inspire either love or hate. For me I was instantly drawn to Jeff Mangum's off-key singing and sometimes strained voice that he bravely chose to leave in the tracks rather than go for take after take until smoothed perfection was reached.
Okay, an album written as a paean to the life and times of Anne Frank by an indy-noodler in the mid 90's isn't going to go down well in all corners but hey, you need a concept, right?
Mangum is a man of towering lyrical ability and an ear for a scratchy, corn fed tune that injects itself straight into the deeper recesses of the brain.
The last time I felt shivers like this was when I first discovered War of the Worlds as a youngster.
I challenge you try this record and give it a whirl, if you are a 'muso' you owe it to yourself.
Mangum has produced an epic worthy of exploration.
Plus, there is a guy credited with 'white noise' in the sleeve notes. Nuff said.
31 of 35 people found the following review helpful
on 27 February 2006
As another reviewer previously noted... In The Aeroplane Over The Sea is a loose concept album, seemingly focusing on the era surrounding World War II, and inspired by the diary of Anne Frank. It's also a deeply personal and heartfelt album, one that strings together bizarre and often dreamlike lyrics that tend to focus on everything from quarrelling couples to murdered soldiers, with sidelines in funeral processions, executions, genocide and lonely side-show acts. It's an album that begins with an ode to The King Of Carrot Flowers, takes a trip in an aeroplane high above the sea, traverses through Holland 1945, and eventually climaxes with the last word of a reoccurring character... and the most heartbreaking song about unrequited love ever written.
I only heard the record for the first time in early 2005, but it's already one of my top three albums of all time, with Jeff Mangum's acoustic based tales of woe eventually working their way into my subconscious and grabbing hold of my imagination following numerous late-night listening sessions. It's an album that demands attention from the listener... not one to be raped and pillaged for the benefit of your iPod, or played in the background during dinner parties for your friends. You have to work at these songs, picking through the seemingly random stream-of-conscious lyrics, whilst somehow finding yourself entranced by the simple and repetitive strumming and occasional bursts of horns, pianos and other wild instrumental touches like organs, tape effects and singing saws.
The first song, King of Carrot Flowers Pt 1 is the easiest song to like on the first listen, with Mangum tapping into a hazy sense of monochromatic nostalgia, as he intones the opening line "when you were young you were the king of carrot flowers, and how you built a tower tumbling through the trees". The rest of the song continues that sense of looking back, with Mangum peppering his lyrics with childlike evocations, as a sweet harmonium counter-melody comes in to jar against the switch into darker lyrical territory, and we start to see the emergence of something much more sinister. At first, these lyrics seem absolutely random and completely indecipherable, but really, the more we listen to the album, the more we take from it. Everyone who listens to it will have their own personal interpretations of what Mangum's lyrics might be pointing to... I personally see it as an ode to unrequited love, and that dangerous kind of obsession that Mangum looked at in his post-Aeroplane song "Little Birds".
The album is perfectly put together, progressing seamlessly from the strummed folk of King of Carrot Flowers Pt 1, into the minimal King of Carrot Flowers Pts 2, which opens with some subtle guitar picking and a minimal burst of organ, with Mangum's trembling shout intoning the refrain "I love you Jesus Christ!!". Like much of the album, this earnest statement seems to be inviting ridicule, but, like the idea of yearning for Anne Frank, Mangum means it, and I feel privileged to be able to share in his sense of devotion. From here, we move into Carrot Flowers Pt 3 (subtitled Up and Over), which is something close to folk-psychedelia, as a bombardment of horns and some quickly strummed guitars enter the fray and the song moves off in a direction that brings to mind the band's first album, the urgent and distorted On Avery Island.
The entire album is a joy to listen to... one that I've been playing constantly since I first got it one that I'd hope to be playing for many more decades to come. The ideology of the band and the album itself begins to become clearer with songs like In The Aeroplane Over the Sea, and, in particular, Two Headed Boy, in which the album really just becomes a showcase for Mangum and his heavily-strummed acoustic guitar. As Andy Broder states on the re-issue sleeve, the album works because of the central juxtaposition, "lyrically, complex and gruesome... musically, simple and sweetly melodic". The title track builds around four basic verse chords (with some distant background instrumentation adding atmosphere) whilst Mangum and his evocative lyrics capture our imagination. The same can be said about Two Headed Boy, in which Mangum seems to be envisioning himself as a lost and lonely side-show performer, forced to watch the world go by from the confines of a glass-jar. It's a beautiful song; like the entirety of the album it's a stark combination of words and music that builds to something truly transcendent.
This album is really too great to put into words... from the Scott Spillane composed orgy of horns and Salvation Army style rhythms that is The Fool, through to the heartbreaking ode to Anne Frank, Holland 1945 ("the only girl I ever loved / was born with roses in her eyes / until they buried her alive / one evening 1945 / with just her sister at her side / and only weeks before the guns / all came and rained on everyone") and beyond that to the epic free-form ramble of Oh Comely... an eight-minute long character sketch that is probably the closest alternative-folk music ever has come to creating it's own Bohemian Rhapsody/Paranoid Android style moment of transcendence. I've not even mentioned the ghostly lament of the Communist Daughter, or the surreal, psychedelic instrumental with no name, or the defining moment for me, the gorgeous and heartbreaking Two Headed Boy Pt 2.
Here, Mangum makes himself clear... "in my dreams you're alive and you're crying / as your mouth moves in mine soft and sweet / rings of flowers round your eyes and I'll love you / for the rest of your life / in your reading". I'm not guaranteeing that you'll have as intense an experience listening to the album that I have... this record just means something to me... something greater than words could ever express.