Experimental Music Love

February 20, 2008

10 Years On – In the Aeroplane Over the Sea

Filed under: Features — by Free Edinburgh Podcast @ 8:10 pm


Some albums break boundaries.  Some change lives.  Some convey the workings of a truly magical mind.  Some show off talent previously unimaginable.  Some contain poetry to match Wilde, Yeats and Donne.  Some are just a collection of playful melodies that could bewitch any ear.  And some very special ones are all of the above. 

And 10 years on since the release of Neutral Milk Hotel’s classic second album, In the Aeroplane over the Sea, new music lovers are still discovering a world of such beautiful contradictions and philosophies on life.  The record that takes the entire history of music as its template and goes on to define and embellish it, creating the pinnacle of the most purest art-form of them all.

1998 was a special year in American music.  Okkervil River and The Strokes both formed; Conor Oberst took his first tentative steps into commercial success with Bright Eyes; Eels came up with the masterpiece in personal trauma and choked hope that is Electro-Shock Blues; and Fall Out Boy were still thankfully unformed. 

But each of these events amount to mere footnotes in The Book of Life: The Pop Music Version, when compared with what happened on February 10th (in the US at least), as Jeff Mangum unveiled his masterpiece of dreams and revelations to the world.

Mangum’s only previous foray into the world of recorded music with Neutral Milk Hotel had been 1996’s On Avery Island, a record that hid its folk ambition under a veil of synthetic punk fuzz, yet hinted at the potential of one of music’s true revolutionaries.  Its lyrics touched on the themes that run throughout Aeroplane too, with a disdain for the trivialisation of sex, yet a great hope and childlike wonder at just how vast humanity and its world can be.

Aeroplane saw everything improve.  With talent tightened and production perfected, Magnum was allowed the grace of a running story throughout his defining work, as the tragedy of Anne Frank filled his dreams and his words:

“Anna’s ghost all around/Hear her voice as it’s rolling and ringing through me/Soft and sweet/How the notes all bend and reach above the trees”  

The way these words are sung only further confound with a passion that demonstrates the belief of a songwriter who firmly loves and cherishes each word he has let slip from his head.   Though barked and overtly paced at times, these tales never lack clarity or meaning.

And this unique take on vocals is just one of the many reasons for Aeroplane’s influence on music in the last 10 years.

Described as this generation’s Sgt. Pepper’s by Dresden Doll, Amanda Palmer, this was the first populist album of the modern era that sought not to solely look at what Western pop music had done these last 50 years, but consciously made an effort to seek musical ideas from all across the world and incorporate it into the glorious melodies that are on offer here.

And this aspiration has made Aeroplane the album to look up to for many artists since its release, with the likes of Modest Mouse, Arcade Fire, Shins, Decemberists, Okkervil River, Franz Ferdinand, Bright Eyes, Death Cab, Rilo Kiley and New Pornographers owing more than just a little debt to this masterpiece.

Ten years on, it still sounds as fresh, vibrant and otherworldly as before.  This is the record Wilson, Lennon and Bowie wanted to make, yet never could quite manage.  This is the record Brock, Oberst and Butler can only aspire to in years to come.  This is more than a record.  This is the greatest work of art the 20th century managed to conjure up, and the world should listen.


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