Neutral Milk Hotel - In the Aeroplane Over the Sea (1998) (1 Viewer)

old

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Also: The Jesus thing was probably the most discomfiting thing I could have heard on a record in 1998 as someone with a binary, reactionary attitude to religion who grew up listening to songs about Satan.
 

MacDara

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Only one person may play the saw, and that is Joss with Joan of Arse that one time when they supported A Silver Mt Zion.
 

old

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Thanks. But I wouldn't have bought that saw without hearing Julian Koster playing on this and the Music Tapes record.

Only one person may play the saw, and that is Joss with Joan of Arse that one time when they supported A Silver Mt Zion.
 

rettucs

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The comments on this album (both positive and negative) to now have been interesting to read. Its unusual to like an album as much as I like this one yet find yourself agreeing with the negative comments on it. If I was coming at this album fresh and someone described it to me before I'd heard it, I'd expect to totally hate it. Dubious vocals, shoddy production, songs that are a complete mess in parts, theres no way it should work. But it does, somehow. Like @egg_ said, this ticks none of my boxes either.

Comments were made about this being an album that may have resonated with the younger generation when it came out, and is still fawned over by those people, who are now all grown up. But, you can make the same claim about a lot of albums. I'd say we all like something from our youth that, were we to come to it fresh in later years, we'd hate. I can remember listening to this for the first time. I can remember the exact circumstances that led me to it. I can remember clearly how it did absolutely nothing for me at first, but how it became the album I've listened to most from that day to this. If I check the play count on my iPod, this is way out in front. When you add in spotify listens, and the amount of times I've listened to the CD in the car, this is by far and away my most listened to album in the last 10 years. Its one of the few albums I can listen to right through, then start over as soon as it ends. I've even had days in work where I listened to nothing else but this album on repeat.

I discovered this album in 2006. Thats 8 years after it was released, but only one year after it was reissued. The initial review of the album by pitchfork was this;

Neutral Milk Hotel
In The Aeroplane Over The Sea
(Merge)
Rating: 8.7

As good indie pop acts grow fewer and further between, the
driving force of the underground is growing decidedly noisy and abstract. But while fab acts like Gastr Del Sol, Flying Saucer Attack and Tortoise continue to pulverize traditional song structure, there's one psych- rock band making music that's just as catchy as it is frightening.

From the opening "King of Carrot Flowers," In The Aeroplane Over The Sea shifts from acoustic folkiness to loud, fast punk rock with little or no warning. It features a noisy horn section and a dreamy singin' saw, all rolled into a package that does a credible job of blending Sgt. Pepper with early '90s lo-fi.

Neutral Milk Hotel frontman Jeff Magnum writes songs that read like bad dreams. He inherits a world of cannibalism, elastic sexuality and freaks of nature. We can only assume he
likes it there.
I'm not sure of the date of that review or whether pitchfork even existed in 1998, but its a pretty crappy review. The mis-spelling of Mangum's name is their error, not mine.

Fast-forward to 2005 and they review it again. This time, despite their being no change to the album, they find an extra 1.3 points from somewhere, and the review goes something like this;

Neutral Milk Hotel: In the Aeroplane Over the Sea

pitchfork said:
This album is not cool.
Its hard to argue with that.

Up to 2006 I wasn't aware that this band or album even existed. That year I made the acquaintance of an American person who had just moved to Ireland. They liked their music, as did I. We exchanged mix-tapes of music we'd think each other wouldn't be aware of, but might like. I was so ignorant of American indie music at that point. In my world it was possibly all hidden behind the onslaught of whatever NME decided to feed me at any given time.

There was no Neutral Milk Hotel song on any of those mix-tapes though. That came after. During an idle conversation which led to our favourite albums ever, this was mentioned. I figured, if this person likes their music (and they've already introduced me to lots of great stuff), and this is their favourite album, then its worth 50 odd minutes of my time. And I listened. And though I didn't really fully get what was great about it at first, I think there was enough there to bring me back to it. And listened again, and again, and again. And finally, it clicked.


(continued below)
 

rettucs

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(part 2)

Fast-forward a year or so to what was arguably the 3 greatest days of consecutive gigs I've ever experienced. I can't remember the order of the shows, but 2 of the 3 gigs were, Sufjan Stevens in the Olympia (shortly after Illinoise), Midlake in the Village (shortly after Van Occupanther, which I was obsessed with at the time). The 3rd gig was Calexico in the Olympia, a band which I knew almost nothing about. But I didn't go to see Calexico. I went to see the support act, a little known band called Beiruit. I arrived very early for this show so got into the pit. What we didn't know about this gig was that there was a 3rd act on the bill. They were a little odd, to say the least. A girl with a violin, and a guy playing an assortment of instruments. At one point he was seated on a low stool. He had 2 mini-cybals taped to the inside of his knees. He wore a wooly had that had a drumstick attacked via gaffa tape. And he had an accordian. While playing an incredibly complex piece of traditional Eastern European music on the accordian, he provided percussion via his head and knees. It was bizarre, but it worked. By the end of their set I was completely won over and popped out to the merch stand to see if they had any albums for sale. I had no idea who they were or even what the band name was.

There is a point to this, I swear.

The rest of this show proceeded. Beiruit were grand. As was usual back in those days, a 17-year old Zach Condon was drunk as a lord, but kept it together. Calexico were dreadful and we left early. But that first act stayed with me. I spent the next few days listening to that album, and it has become one of my favourite albums ever. It was what I discovered afterwards that has relevance. The group were called A Hack and a Hacksaw, and the guy on accordian was Jeremy Barnes, one-time drummer of Neutral Milk Hotel.

I was simulataneously annoyed that I hadn't known this while at the gig, and intrigued that I'd seen someone who had played on In the Aeroplane Over the Sea in the flesh. This heightened my interest in the album even further.

I'll admit that I hadn't a notion what the album was about. The Anne Frank stuff. I didn't really care. I had just assumed it was some kind of off-the-wall concept album, which I was more than used to from liking Pink Floyd, I was never one to try and dissect lyrics and extract meaning from them. If a song sounds good, that plenty good enough for me.

I recall making a copy of the album and giving it to a buddy of mine who I'd go to a lot of gigs with at the time. He hadn't heard of the band at that point. He texted me a while later asking 'what the hell is this shite. 'I love you jesus christ'? some sort of religion bullshit?'. I laughed it off and thought, fair enough, he doesn't like it. A few years later Jeff Mangum came to play a solo show in Vicar St. I recall walking back towards christchurch after the gig and bumping into that same guy. I asked him what the hell he was doing going to the gig if he hated the album as much as he did. He told me that it had become his favourite album (but clearly had forgotten ever to mention it).

That gig in Vicar St. That was a big moment. I can't remember how it came about. I know Mangum had turned up at the 'Occupy Wall Street' protests and had played a few songs. I know he also released the odd solo song, such as this one from the Chris Knox tribute album;


but I never expected there'd ever be a chance to see him play live. When he came to Dublin he visited the Occupy Dame Street lads (remember them?) and played a couple of songs. I'm sure the Occupy Dame Street boyos hadn't a bog who he was.

But that gig. I think it had originally been booked for Whelans. Thats what my ticket said anyway. Though I loved the album, I figured that not that many other Irish people would have liked it, or had even heard of it. But I was wrong. The gig was quickly upgraded to Vicar St, and it was absolutely wedged. And it was just him and his guitar, banging out song after song, just like some busker at the top of Grafton St.

My opinion of that gig was similar to my opinion of NMH albums. I thought the performance was absolutely dreadful. But I loved every minute of it.

In the couple of years afterwards A Hawk and a Hacksaw would play several times, and I'd go and see them every time they played. I'd buy all their albums, and adored them all. For some reason I never looked into what the other members of NMH were up to. Until I saw a post on thumped one day advertising a 'Music Tapes' gig in the Workmans Club.

I went to the gig with @Lili Marlene, and though I'm not entirely sure about everything that happened in that couple of hours, I left thinking it was one of the most amazing, incredible things, I'd ever seen. There was a singing TV, an instrument where you turn a handle but don't do anything else, a saw, a game of chasing, and general good fun for all the family. In summary, Julian Koster is quite mad, but in a really good way.

Fast-forward another couple of years and the unthinkable happens. Neutral Milk Hotel announce they are reforming for a limited number of shows. And, unlike almost every other band, they are coming to Dublin. Amazing. Like, really Amazing. They had a number of shows played by the time they came here and the reviews coming from those shows (mainly from an incredibly excitable fan running a twitter account @NMHfans) were overwhelmingly positive. This was a truly once-in-a-lifetime chance to see a band that had become incredibly important to me.

The gig really brought home what a unique bunch of musicians these guys are. I recall standing outside before the gig waiting on @jonah (cos I had a ticket for her), and Julian Koster walking by. No one had a clue who he was. I recall thinking, fuck that guy looks 10 years younger than me. Talented prick. And the gig itself. Mangum stayed to one side of the stage hammering away on his guitar, croaking out every song. But the other 3 - Koster, Barnes and Spillane - to watch them interchanging instruments and playing each song masterfully, was something that will always stay with me. And Barne's drumming on The Fool. Amazing. Knowing Barnes and Mangum to be quite serious, intense people, I expected Koster to be the token crazy member of the band. Scott Spillane put him in the ha'penny place.

At some stage during the gig poor @jonah couldn't control her tears, so had to go out the back for a little cry to herself (she was crying tears of joy though, she later informed me).

Anyway, that gig will live long in the memory. Truly incredible. And in one way I hope they never play again.

I don't think I'm even going to try too hard to justify why I like In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, or why I like NMH. I'm not that gone on their first album (which I think was more of a Mangum solo effort anyway). I just like it. I like the bad songs. I like the excessive instrumentation. I like the nonsensical lyrics. I love the uileann pipes. I love the trombone. I love the passion in the songs, in Mangums voice, in the playing. And I love how the album is put together. Its almost like one really long song. And its great. The flow of the album is fantastic.

And I thank @Jill Hives for introducing me to this album.
 

travispickle

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Eh, oooookay, @scutter's post is a tough act to follow! I'm not getting into that level of detail (or at least, I don't intend to!). I have a bit of previous with this album; I came to it via the reissue not the original release, as they were a band that I was completely unaware of at that time. My first time around, I hated it; totally and absolutely hated it. I thought it was complete crap. I was (and remain) baffled as to why this album is held up as a classic in some quarters or why people are so taken with it and love it so much. Clearly this album resonates and means a lot to people who've connected with it on a really personal level - I don't know why. I guess we all like what we like and music is such a personal thing anyway. I don't worry or get upset over not liking something lots of other people seem to - different folks, different strokes etc.
I've been listening to it pretty much solidly, give or take a few well earned breaks, since last Friday for the Album Club. I no longer hate it, but I'm still baffled as to just what the attraction is. As other posters have said, I just don't click with it, or it with me. However, it has grown on me slightly and there is a lot to like about it, but by the same token, I'd be happy never to hear it again.
What I DO like is the absolute abandon in the performances on this record. Everyone sings and plays like their lives depend on it, like this is the ONLY chance they have to get this down. There is a chaotic feeling that's quite appealing to the whole thing. Most everything works too for the most part - singing saws, uileann pipes, brass, whatever - it all seems to hang together just about. Some of the songs are really good, some not so good, some are absolutely awful (I'm looking at you Oh Comely). I think this is very much a Young Man's Album. Other posters have said perhaps you needed to have heard this at a particular time, a particular age; perhaps that's true, perhaps not. That's true of other albums for me alright, but not this one.
Still, I'm glad to have listened to it, to have given it a chance. I found I had more patience for it this time around or perhaps in the intervening time I've grown used to listening to other music like it. I can hear lots of other bands in there and that's great, they're all good bands. I think though what's missing for me is the lack of hooks and choruses. The songs need more structure put on them for my money and Mangum (and his word count) needs reigning in. I'm big on catchy, hooky pop and I don't get that on this record. It's not that type of album, but I think it could have been. Anyway, I won't be revisiting it but it was a great choice for the Album Club and I've enjoyed every album so far. They're all provoking good, insightful discussion in their own way and are getting us all listening closely and listening outside of our comfort zones, which is always a good thing.
 

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I feel impelled to fire off a couple of "heroes" for those last two posts..and I mean it

I have nothing to add except I love this album to bits ..and I was at that Midlake gig cos I was TOTALLY obsessed with Van Occupanther too!
 

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We're getting very po-mo up in here..reign it in hipsters
 

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Neutarl Milk Hotel fans wrecking the place as usual
 

travispickle

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and I was at that Midlake gig cos I was TOTALLY obsessed with Van Occupanther too!
Same here; that was a great gig. Sorry now I didn't think to recommend Van Occupanther as an Album Club choice!
 

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