Top 25 Albums #21. In The Aeroplane Over The Sea - Neutral Milk Hotel
Some records are great, plain and simple. Some aren't just great, but haunted. Possessed. Deeply moved by The Diary of a Young Girl, singer-songwriter Jeff Mangum and his scruffy troupe of maverick musicians put together a collection of musings, rants, riddles, and love letters, the ghost of Anne Frank hovering just above all the while (If you aren't convinced, may I point you to "Ghost"?). An indie classic, In The Aeroplane Over The Sea's bold, brassy composition has inspired countless college radio bands in the years since its 1998 release. Seeking (in both its famous cover art and its music) to capture an old-timey, almost carnival-like World War aesthetic, the raw trumpets, horns, and accordion on "The Fool" resemble those of a funeral marching band. The album begins with "King of Carrot Flowers Part 1," a wistful introduction to "that secret place where no one dares to go," the land of magic and regret which holds In The Aeroplane Over The Sea in its bosom. The song ends with one of my favorite lines: "And dad would dream of all the different ways to die, each one a little more than he could dare to try." It may sound morbid, and I suppose it is, but Mangum sings the lyric with so much joy that a smile can't help but form on my face. The title track is a standout, spilling over with melancholic ruminations on the brevity of youth and life. "Two-Headed Boy" and "Holland, 1945" imagine Anne Frank reincarnated as, well, a two-headed boy, "playing pianos filled with flames." It's surreal almost to the point of being nonsensical, but somehow it works, as poetry (something nearly every lyricist since Dylan has chased but which few have truly captured). Another beautiful line is found in "Holland, 1945" (my favorite track on the album): "And it's so sad to see the world agree that they'd rather see their faces filled with flies, oh, when I'd want to keep white roses in their eyes." The lyrics may be mournful, but the music is unquestionably, furiously alive. The closer, "Two-Headed Boy Part 2", begins by dragging us into a wintry wilderness of discordant flutes, and ends with the heartbreaking final line, "But don't hate her when she gets up to leave." Afterwards, Jeff Mangum can be heard rising from his chair, putting down his guitar, and walking out of the room. His voice is wiry and weird, oftentimes too loud for the microphone he was using to properly handle. His band is raw and scraggly. His world is strange and sometimes frightening. Nevertheless, Neutral Milk Hotel have produced something lovely, poetic, sad, and bursting at the seams with ferocious vivacity.