Sweet New Finals Week Arrivals, pt. 3/3: In The Aeroplane Over The Sea

You can only imagine my excitement when my supervisor told me to look at the stack of new CDs today and I found this. What a gift, particularly after the traumatic experience of hiding from a fake gunman. If I ever get put on lockdown in Katzen again, at least I’ll know that even without food, water, or cell phone battery life, I’ll be able to listen to In The Aeroplane Over The Sea on library speakers until I die of starvation. Unless, of course, somebody checks it out.

(Like Paris)

That’s right, our last Sweet New Arrival of the week happens to be one of the most-adored indie rock albums of all time. Released in 1998, ITAOTS turned Neutral Milk Hotel from a tiny lo-fi indie folk band into a tiny lo-fi indie folk band with a gigantic cult audience, to the point that this album has become the stereotypical “indie” album to say you like. But no matter its reputation for annoying, evangelical fans, the album itself will always shine through with the brilliant light of its vision, passion and beauty.

The album’s sound is a mixture of elements you wouldn’t think would cohere, and yet how they do: ramshackle acoustic strums, accordion, the eerie singing saw, entire horn sections, and fuzzed-out, hyper distorted guitars. Appearing in different combinations throughout the album with a healthy helping of studio-conceived ambience, these elements of Neutral Milk Hotel’s sound give the album a feeling of being utterly removed from time and space, at once atavistic and dystopian.

neutral milk hotel
The boys


But what makes ITAOTS an utter work of art is the fact that it is shot through with some of the most utterly emotional songwriting ever to be committed to tape. In his distinctive, keening drawl, frontman/songwriter Jeff Mangum delivers a set of 9 songs (not counting two great instrumentals) that are guaranteed to wrench the heartstrings. Mangum’s lyrics are chock-full of oddball, surrealistic imagery, loosely centering on an infatuation with Anne Frank (yes, the Anne Frank) but more broadly on different kinds of relationships of love and need. And while the imagery is multi-leveled and dense, it is impossible to fight the emotional power of the simple observations that pepper the songsheet, such as the title track’s “can’t believe how strange it is to be anything at all” and of course, the final song’s “don’t hate her when she gets up to leave” (followed by the sound of Mangum getting up and leaving the studio, and the album). Lyrics like these, coupled with the simple and unfettered intensity of his melodies, are guaranteed to reduce anyone with a heart to a weeping child by the 40th and last minute of this album.

So come in and see what all the hype is about, we’ve got it now! Hurry, quick, before we close for the winter! You don’t want to go another long commute home without this album. Trust me. See you in the spring!