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Enjoyable tome discussing cult classic...,
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This review is from: Neutral Milk Hotel's In the Aeroplane Over the Sea (33 1/3) (Paperback)
The 33 1/3 series is clearly a major contribution to discussion of popular music - excellent contributions thus far include Joe Pernice's 'Meat is Murder', Michaelangelo Matos' 'Sign'O'the Times', Andy Miller's 'The Kinks are the Village Green Preservation Society' & Bill Janovitz's 'Exile on Main Street.' There are some great titles in the series I'm going to get to at some point - 'Let It Be', 'Endtroducing', 'Murmur' and upcoming books on 'Loveless', 'Daydream Nation', 'Doolittle' & 'There's a Riot Goin' On'. Clearly devoting a book to one album is a great idea and antithetical to the listy phase of things at present or the fairly brief articles these days. Though I'm not sure books on 'Abba Gold' or 'OK Computer' are particularly interesting - everything has a flaw?
Kim Cooper's meticulously written book focuses on "In the Aeroplane Over the Sea" by Neutral Milk Hotel, a record that surfaced in the late 1990s and became extemely culty. It is only with its reissue on Domino records last year that this cult has been addressed - its following in America is immense and it has become the kind of record websites and their cyber musings amass around. Personally the first time I heard the record I was slightly confounded, more to the seemingly cut-up lyrics which appeared to allude to WWII - I wondered if comprehending the lyrics would involve smoking something illicit and watching as much of 'The World at War' as is possible. Perhaps then things would be illuminated?
So, Cooper's book is probably an ideal primer to a great record - like some books on 'Ulysses' it can help crystallise certain ideas going on here. Cooper's book isn't a conventional track-by-track analysis like the 33 1/3 on '...The Village Green Preservation Society'- it focuses on the bohemian Elephant 6 collective that included not only Neutral Milk Hotel, but other acts such as Elf Power, Olivia Tremor Control Apples in Stereo & The Minders. It's a reminder of an alternative commune like scene where people are into art rather than commerce and the array of influences that stimulated the artists behind Neutral Milk Hotel: Sun Ra, Robert Wyatt, obscure Folkways recordings, Alfred Jarry, John Coltrane, Amos Tutuola, Yoko Ono, Voltaire, John Cage, Haruki Murakami ('The Wind Up Bird Chronicle'), Steve Reich, They Might Be Giants, 'Pet Sounds/the original Smile', Os Mutantes, The Kinks, Charlie Haden, Beat Happening etc. Listening to "In the Aeroplane Over the Sea" this makes sense.
Cooper traces the development of the conceptual band around Jeff Magnum and his colleagues, towards the NMH debut 'On Avery Island' (1996) and towards the album under focus. It's interesting to note how Magnum & co developed some of these songs live and also anecdotes like the girl who might have been the ghost of Anne Frank.
Yes, Anne Frank - how does she come into this? As long-time and not that long time listeners of "In the Aeroplane..." are aware, the album is a conceptual piece centred around the tragic figure of Anne Frank who left her timeless diary to the generations that followed. 'The Diary of a Little Girl' (the definitive edition) is the other book of supportive reading that will bring this album out for the listener. Cooper then follows through the story to the point Jeff Magnum wanted no more - and NMH ceased to exist. This book celebrates one of the great albums of recent years and a cult classic with a sizeable following the world over. Probably the best book of this excellent series I've read so far...
What album would I like to write a 33 1/3 on? - I'd probably plump for Swell Maps...in "Jane from Occupied Europe", Ride's 'Nowhere', Associates' 'Sulk', Dexy's 'Don't Stand Me Down', baader meinhof, Scott Walker's 'Tilt', American Music Club's 'Everclear' or Echo & the Bunnymen's 'Crocodiles'...