In the Aeroplane Over the Sea: The Polarizing Cult Classic
This album by Neutral Milk Hotel, an indie-rock band of yesteryear, is strange to say the least. It’s not just unique in its music, but also in how it rose to popularity. Released in 1998 amongst a host of extremely good indie-rock releases, it easily slipped through people’s radars. Shared among a small group of people who loved the album, and spread mostly by word of mouth, this album did not achieve popularity for many years after its release. The arrival of the internet changed everything. When 4chan, the imageboard website, started in 2003, this album gained huge acclaim in /mu/, the music board of 4chan. /mu/, at the time, comprised mostly of people with extremely avant-garde styles of music, mostly to a fault. Now, however, this album has begun to achieve popularity among the general public.
As for the album itself, the lyrics are often dark, and almost inexplicably weird. Some of the album’s lyrics were inspired by Anne Frank’s diary, which supposedly moved the lead singer Jeff Mangum very much at the time. In the song Holland, 1945 he imagines Anne Frank reborn as,
“Now she’s a little boy in Spain/ Playing pianos filled with flames/ On empty rings around the sun.”
Much of the sadness that Mangum experienced on reading Anne Frank’s diary seeps through. The album appears to bemoan the fact that innocence as we know it is a lie. In places, it seems to ask, if Anne Frank, whose diary reveals her to be an innocent, clever child filled with wonder could be snuffed out by the worst forces of hate in the world so easily, what hope do we have?
As for the music itself, this album has an otherworldly feeling to it, with instrumentals ranging from acoustic guitars to trombones, over Mangum’s almost breathless vocals. Contrary to the lyrics, the music itself exudes a naive homemade aesthetic, comprising mostly of lofi folk-rock.
While some have hailed this album to be one of the best that the indie-rock scene has produced, others have found the folky music of the album to be too simplistic and scant to be put on such a pedestal. This is undoubtedly a very polarizing album, but one that deserves at least a single listen, for the fact that its liltingly unique music promises to be something different.