Saturday, 27 September 2008

Review: Neutral Milk Hotel – In The Aeroplane Over The Sea


Neutral Milk Hotel – In The Aeroplane Over The Sea

Ok, so I’m writing a review of this album because I should have probably done it months ago since I’ve had it since the 23rd of May, but I really wanted to feel that I got to know the album first. I did this for a few reasons. One of them was that I read lots of reviews of this album, and they pretty much all said how amazing it was, so I thought there must be something I’m missing. The other reason I did this was because it’s a massive annoyance of mine when people judge albums or music before they’ve properly had the chance to sink in; as in almost anyone I try to introduce Radiohead to a lot of the time, or at least non Bends material. So yeah, I think I’ve given it enough full listens to warrant having an opinion.

I think I’m going to do a Dominic O’ K(computer)elly here and split the review into musical and conceptual halves, though I might just get rid of that division if I feel like talking about them both.


One of my early criticisms with this as an album was the fact that everything’s all very similar, instrumental wise. Most of the songs’ cores are just a guy with an acoustic guitar playing chords that we all know and love. Now, however, I’ve pretty much changed my opinion; not necessarily that the album isn’t very similar instrumental wise throughout, but that it’s not necessarily a bad thing and I’ve realised that an album doesn’t necessarily have to be a cluster of diversity to be considered great.

The similarity between songs actually helps this album, it works a lot better as an album then picking and choosing tracks, I find. Songs bleed into each other, have multiple parts found on different parts of the album (“Two-Headed Boy” and “Two-Headed Boy, Pt 2” for example) and the fact that most of the instruments remain similar through out. But then of course, there are moments where everything I’ve just said is thrown out of the window, such as the mostly horns instrumental of “The Fool”, and the complete awesomeness of the Untitled track and how it came out of nowhere for me upon my first listen; a definite highlight for me.

The style of the album is also very, very original, I might add; the fact that the band have managed to fit horns into so many of the songs and so well is great, along with the whole acoustic + fuzzy bass sound. Pretty great, if you ask me. I should also add that the acoustic guitars sound really thick and great; you just gotta listen to the beginning of “King of Carrot Flowers, Pt 1” to understand where I’m coming from.

I’m trying to think of negative sides for the musical aspect, and can’t really think of much because it’s very hard to say “this musical aspect doesn’t work” because they might have had different intentions then what I think they had. The only thing I can really think of is that, while really great and definitely a highlight of the musical side, sometimes Mangum’s voice uh, for lack of a better word, struggles when singing really loud higher notes, making it sound just a tad shrill. I think “Two-Headed Boy” probably suffers the most from this, e.g “Catching signals that sound in the dark”. I can definitely see that this might have a certain charm to it, but I prefer Mangum’s voice when he can reach the notes properly. And that’s not meant to really be a dig, it doesn’t subtract from the score at all or anything I guess.


I think learning the overall concept of this album probably made me like the album more. It is about/inspired by “the horrific fate of Anne Frank”, and no, that’s not the title of a book or anything.

Got to say, Mangum is definitely an excellent lyricist. I didn’t really realise at first, but I looked up most of the lyrics to the songs through lyric sites, and it’s definitely made me appreciate some songs a lot more, mainly “Two-Headed Boy, Pt 2”. A lot of the time, I’m actually really impressed by how many words Mangum actually manages to fit into his lyrics, and they’re all really good.

But, speaking of lyrics, my one gripe with the album is that, sometimes, the lyrics and themes really don’t match the music. An example of this, and I know that this song is usually called a highlight but it doesn’t gel for me as well as it does for everyone else, is the title track, “In The Aeroplane Over The Sea”. The lyrics are pretty damn beautiful, with these lines in particular standing out:

“And one day we will die
And our ashes will fly from the aeroplane over the sea
But for now we are young
Let us lay in the sun
And count every beautiful thing we can see”

See, I think these lyrics are great, and are better than the actual song they’re accompanied by. The horns don’t work for what should be quite a withdrawn song, in my opinion. Everything sounds too crowded and I think the song would have definitely worked as more of a stripped down acoustic guitar + voice song, like the excellent “Two-Headed Boy, Pt 2.” But I know that is my opinion and is really subjective, because a lot of my negative opinions reguarding this album are “this should have been done that way” and things like that, really subjective things, which is why I put off doing this review. There’s nothing universally agreed upon that’s bad about the album I guess, just small things.

Conclusion and Final Thoughts:

I like this album quite a bit now. It’s coloured it’s own original colour throughout. However, despite the fact that I have praised the album a lot in this review, I don’t love it like a lot of other reviewers do, what I feel for it is more of an appreciation than a love for it. The band recorded a great, consistent concept album, but it sadly doesn’t have “that track” for me. Y’know, the “Pyramid Song”, the “Paranoid Android”, the “Pluto”, the “Showbiz”, the “Say Yes”. It’s almost like every song is a consistent 8/10 for me, some being slightly worse, and 1 of them being better. But, again, this is ENTIRELY personal, a lot of people might think that this album has “that track” or a LOT of “those tracks”.

As for my favourite tracks? I’d have to say “Two-Headed Boy, Pt 2” mainly for it’s lyrical excellence, and I think he recorded it in the exact way that he should have. On second thought, this might be “That Track”, I’m not even sure. I’m really hard pressed to say what my other favourite tracks are, mainly because the songs are so consistent and the album works as an album rather than picking and choosing tracks, like I said before.

I’m going to go ahead and give the album an 8/10. I’m not sure if it’s too low, or even too high. I can’t quite gather my thoughts on this album completely, which is a bit frustrating because usually I can tell exactly how I feel about albums. I think it’s because I really have nothing to compare this album to, as I don’t really have any other Neutral Milk Hotel stuff, and even if I did it’d be 1 album.


I’d also like someone to explain why Mangum sings about semen quite a bit in this. I mean, it’s wonderful and all, but…did he want to bone Anne Frank or something? Awesome.


zak said...

i need to buy more albams of band that i like i was contenplating getting a nutral milk hotal albam but not sure if i sould i am deffinatly getting other albams first but would you say that i should get this albam or not

Jack said...

I already profoundly disagree with what I've written in this review.

TJ said...

Hey Jack! Write one about me and Zak! Excellent Idea.

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