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Sunday, June 5, 2016

Neutral Milk Hotel: In The Aeroplane Over The Sea (IAS #23)

This one's bound to be controversial today:

Neutral Milk Hotel: In The Aeroplane Over The Sea

(Flamethrowers have been removed from the area as a precaution measure).

16 comments:

  1. Another great review to read through!

    Given your opinion so-far for these more recent "G.O.A.T." albums, I'm now highly curious to see how you react to (supposedly) GYBE next Sunday.

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    1. Also, less to do with the music, but I have spotted some link errors on the IAS pages:

      - The "previous entry" link for Aeroplane links back to itself.
      - "The Queen Is Dead" has no "PE" link whatsoever.
      - A little older, but the "next entry" link for Black Sabbath's Paranoid links to itself as well, rather than "Highway 61"
      - Much older now, the shortcut link to the "Bob Marley" section of the HTML version of the A-B reviews links to Bo Hansson instead. I've always wanted to tell you that since I discovered it, but I never had a good enough reason before that didn't feel out of the blue.

      Anyway, once you've corrected those George, you can feel free to delete this comment.

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    2. Thank you, got them all, I think.

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  2. I wasn't able to stand listening to the entire album, but I think the title track is cool. I dare say virtually all of the sincere admiration for this album comes from the first forty seconds of that song.

    I don't have that much use for the rest of the album. Two-headed Boy and Holland, 1945 are good songs, but the muddled production and arrangements undercut their power. There is something odd about an album sounding objectively this horrible getting this many accolades. You would think people would have more of an instinctive reaction in favor of preserving their ear drums.

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  3. One of the most unusual albums I've ever heard, and yet one of the least loved. Musically, the only thing I like there is Two-Headed Boy. The others are instantly forgettable, however unique they sound.

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  4. 100% agree with you on this one, George. It's the voice. That awful, whiny, atonal, talentless voice. Like so many bands, especially from the '90s forward, the singer has no business being in front of a microphone.

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  5. I personally don't have that much against Mangum's voice (though I agree on Oh Comely being the album's weak point), however that may be because I've recently listened to Arcade Fire's Funeral, Smashing Pumpkins' Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness and (worst of all) M83's Hurry Up, We're Dreaming, all of which have far worse singing than ITAOTS. Closer to home, I once watched a performance online by Mangum's former bandmate Julian Koster, and his voice is so bad it makes Mangum look like Freddie Mercury in comparison.

    On another topic, despite how much ITAOTS has been talked about, one comparison I'm surprised I've never seen anyone make is to Van Morrison. I mean both Mangum and Morrison are reclusive singer-songwriters known for their over-singing (even if Morrison has FAR more musical know-how), hard-to-decipher lyrics, love of horns and acoustic guitar, willingness to merge multiple genres together (folk, soul, jazz, blues, country and classical for Morrison, folk, country, lo-fi noise-rock, psychedelia, mariachi, zydeco and Bulgarian field music for Mangum), somewhat child-like vibe and emphasis on emotion if not always melody.

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  6. I am puzzled how somebody can have a problem with Mangum's voice but little or no problem with Wayne Coyne's.* Goes to show how appallingly subjective this whole business is. Personally, I think Mangum is powerfully expressive, his bizarre lyrics (steeped equally in continental surrealism, child-like naïvety, and weird sexual dysfunction) genuinely unique and emotionally resonant, and the vocal melodies memorable, catchy, and merged effectively with a one-of-a-kind atmosphere. I join the hipster throng of sheep: Aeroplane deserves all the hype it got and then some.

    *At least I don't recall Coyne's voice being a deal-breaker for George, as the Flaming Lips got overall high marks, but I am not about to read through all of the FL reviews again to check if he ever criticized the band from that angle.

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  7. This album has always worked for me as a peephole into one man's bizarre dreamscape. I love how the album starts with a singular guitar strum and the last thing you hear is his chair squeak as he gets up, its as if the horns, drums and fuzz guitar where all imagined along with the carrot flowers and Two-Headed Boy. This album has always been able to evoke very specific feelings and images within me, ones that enjoy revisiting, and on those merits (especially considering this is indie psych-folk, not jazz rock) I've found it to be a very successful album.

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  8. A great review, but I'll admit that this IS one of those "magical" records for me. Because what this album has in spades-- where I'd disagree with you, George-- is vocal hooks. It's an album that I've committed to memory, and not because I really care or even admire Jeff's lyrics (which, as you mention, are usually pretty gross): it's because everything the dude sings grabs me. (And Jeff is able to do it with hardly a single chorus... No mean feat.) Which is why "Oh Comely" is NOT just a bunch of tuneless caterwauling... It's a fantastically epic nonsense emotional folk masterpiece.

    And "Ghost," holy shit, "Ghost." The guitar solo on "Ghost"!

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    1. Agreed. Magnum's singing in "O Comely" is in the vein of Barret's "If It's in You." A congested mind retching out his imperfect notes in exactly the way they need to be. Try auto tuning it; hell, try simply covering it: it can't be done (at least not nearly as well). That's the miracle of the album for me: all it's flaws amount to a weird perfection and that's to be celebrated.

      But yes, musician ship? Vocal prowess? Whatever. Maybe Magnum is the millionth monkey on the millionth typewriter who wound up with the sonnet to rival Shakespeare. The fact is he got up there with Dylan, if just for a moment. The more years go by, the better this album gets. Madness, Sanity, & Soul. What else do we look for in Rock?

      I'm glad George recognized the album though. I'm sure it hurt a little -- the case for the prosecution is pretty lengthy (Anne Frank?), and of course he had to mention those meddling hipsters popularizing it with their good taste & hipster hipstery-ness.

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  9. The first time I heard this, I didn't really give it much thought. Then, after seeing how much of an "icon" it has become, I gave it another, very heartfelt try.
    This album is genuinely fascinating at how awful it is. And no, it's not just the singing. Magnum for me is the very personification of "trying too hard", but that's how the WHOLE band comes across, in every track. The bombastic arrangements are gratuitous and pointless, and when they "rock out" (King of Carrot Flowers part 3, Holland 1945, Ghost), they sound abominable! If they were trying to sound lo-fi, they failed even at that. There's no edge, no energy in that ungodly, lifeless buzz that they pass of as rock music. And the acoustic stuff? It's just marginally less bad. I can't fathom the fact that there's a grand total of FIFTEEN MINUTES of pedestrian guitar strumming and obnoxious muttering/yelling in this record. You can hear the compressor kicking in when Magnum starts yelling his lungs off in Two Headed Boy part 1. It's like the record itself is cringing. I felt sorry for my speakers each time I played it.
    In terms of songwriting, I think only the melody of Ghost and the trombone solo in the title track are good, but not worth the album. This is probably one of the most joyless, passionless records in my entire collection. I don't mean this as a judgement of the musicians themselves, but the way it comes across is just painful and cringe-inducing.
    On the other hand, the Neutral Bling Hotel mash-up In My G4 Over da Sea is unironically AMAZING.

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  10. Also, it's interesting that Wayne Coyne was mentioned. It's a fair comparison. I think what saves Coyne and kills Magnum is exactly the sense of joy and wonder. Coyne never gave me the impression that there was something larger-than-life in his singing, and that I had to take it all to heart; and the way his "ugly" voice melded with all the other elements around it just made things fit. Magnum pulls the spotlight SQUARELY on his vocals, and not only he has the tendency to scream, but he puts it way forward in the mix, even in the acoustic cuts. In the few moments when he allows to back away, his singing just becomes one big whine. It breaches both extremes of Wayne Coyne's spectrum in the most unpleasant ways.

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  11. Much better than I expected it to be. Sure it's flawed and the concept doesn't really hold together but I can clearly recognize some true inspiration behind those tunes, even the dude's voice may sometimes sound a bit off-putting.

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  12. People, stop calling him Magnum. Magnum is a revolver (or an ice cream), the guy is MaNGum. =)

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  13. Great review! I used to be obsessed with this album and with E6 in general in High School. For me as well as many others this album was, I think, a gateway to music that felt emotional, experimental, unique at a time (the 2000's) when there SEEMED to be precious little of that. In a different era something else might have served just as well, maybe. I've become much more musically versed since then and it's no longer my favorite album, but I have to admit that whenever I listen to it again the atmosphere and the emotion of the album really do me in all over again. And it's catchy too!

    I'm curious what you think of Olivia Tremor Control, whose albums, unlike Aeroplane, still remain among my very favorites. I'm not holding my breath, though, there's probably a lot to dislike about them if you're not fully sold on what OTC is doing. I don't see them in the top 100 of the RYM list, so who knows if you'll ever even get to them.

    On the topic of Jeff's voice, I'm actually a big fan. Maybe having an Elephant 6 obsession trains you to like these sorts of traditionally unpleasant voices. I also love the vocals of Julian Koster and Nesey Gallons, who I think the average person would consider about 600% more grating than Jeff's. There IS an E6 band whose vocals prevent me from getting into them at all, though, so I sympathize. Whoever the vocalist of Elf Power is, I just hate his voice. He doesn't sing too differently from other more traditionally pleasing E6 vocalists, but there's a weird lilt to his voice that I just can't stand for some reason.

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