Thursday, October 21, 2004

In the Aeroplane Over the Sea Neutral Milk Hotel

Release Date: 10 Feb., 1998
Review Written: 24 Feb., 2004
Rating: 10

I love to read the reviews on Amazon. The bad reviews, in particular. There can be great enlightenment in looking at the 1-star reviews of Ok Computer, Abbey Road, Pet Sounds, and the like. Do we like this music because it is truly great or do we like it because someone else tells us it is truly great? In the Aeroplane Over the Sea is one of those albums constantly lauded since its release. Naturally, the 1-star reviews on Amazon are outstanding:

“It sounds like its been recorded in a bedroom with no carpeting or furnishings to speak of, and using a guitar found in the shopping trolley of a can collecting toothless old lady.”
- MR P N ABBEY from the UK

“This guy's voice is HORRIBLE with a capital H. It's so far off key most of the time that all I can do is cringe and punch the "off" button on my stereo. My musically-trained ears just can't take it.”
- A Music Fan from CA., USA

“His lyrics are resolutely abstract and leave most listeners cold - or even wondering whether he is just plain mad […] and the singing is bizarrely uncontrolled, rough-edged, overly mournful and often just ordinary shouting.”
- Simon Williams from the UK

“I have listened to this album many, many times, and it always leaves me perplexed.”
- A Music Fan from GA., USA

“The songs don't hang together, the instrumentation is stark and unfriendly, the guy's voice is NOT great at all..I can get into most stuff after a while but this really troubled my ears.”
- Nick Davis from Birmingham, UK

The amazing thing here is that all these people are absolutely right. And that is ok. Neutral Milk Hotel may not be for everyone. My brother, who I believe to have great musical taste, finds this album mediocre. The first time he heard it he thought it was the worst thing he had ever heard. The second time I forced him to listen to it he merely stated, “It isn’t bad.”

As stated above, Jeff Mangum – NMH elder statesmen – is the possessor of a very unique voice - sometimes brash and bleating, sometimes calm and soothing, always unique. His lyrics, as well, are very different. He sings distorted songs about love, sex, incest, Anne Frank, and Jesus. I won’t even pretend to understand his lyrics. I haven’t even attempted to sit down and dissect them and I don’t know if I ever will. To me, this album is so rife with emotion, pure emotion, that to unravel it seems too much.

Whether shouting out, “I love you Jesus Christ, Jesus Christ I love you yes I do,” or softly singing, “Daddy please hear this song that I sing/In your heart there's a spark that just screams/For a lover to bring a child to your chest that could lay as you sleep/And love all you have left like your boy used to be/Long ago wrapped in sheets warm and wet” it is entirely sincere. Never once does the listener doubt that Mangum is for real.

And yes, the guitars on this album sound like they were recorded in a bedroom with a cheap guitar. And that is part of the wonder. The singer/songwriter idea has been bastardized and raped for all it is worth. In 2004, being a singer/songwriter means having an acoustic guitar, songs about girls who broke your heart, and some great tattoos. Please don’t dismiss this simply as a guy with a guitar, though. These songs have much more in common with Skip Spence and Brian Wilson than they do with Chris Carraba and Pete Yorn. There isn’t a simple love song to be found on this album – no messy breakups, no “I want you backs”, and no hate odes. On “Holland, 1945” Mangum sings, “The only girl I've ever loved/Was born with roses in her eyes/But then they buried her alive.” Hardly a Dashboard approved love paean.

The instruments are wildly different too. A grip of the Elephant 6 Recording Company joins in on this record playing such instruments as the flugelhorn, uillean pipes, saw, and the mysterious zanzithaphone. The songs are varied: some are just Mangum and his guitar, others start in that way but end in a cacophonous wall of sound, and still others are electric based rock songs from the start. Every song has a strong element of experimentation to it. Like the rest of Elephant 6, Mangum is hardly content to let music remain static.

This is an album that demands passion - there is not much of a path to walk in the middle of love and hate. For me, it is easily one of the best 20 albums I own. Many people will tell you that this album is great. And for you, that may be true, but it might not. I’m another head telling you this album is great. Now go decide for yourself.


Post a Comment

<< Home