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In the Aeroplane Over the Sea by Neutral Milk Hotel (Review)

The mix of bizarre sonics, lyrical freakshows, and normal songcraft definitely feed off each other.

In the arms race that is psychedelic music, early shots were fired by the likes of Can and the Velvets. New forms of sonic barrage were deployed on records like My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless or Verve’s Storm in Heaven. By now, a ton has already been written in countless other places about Neutral Milk Hotel’s style. I’m writing this now to announce Neutral Milk Hotel’s In the Aeroplane Over the Sea and Olivia Tremor Control’s Black Foliage as successors to those artists and albums. With these 2 records, they’ve knocked out some of the most powerfully evocative music to come out in ages.

The trend that may be announced by these works is indeed a promising one. The wall of dreamy, yet somehow intelligible noise is now beginning to give way to yet more intelligible, easy-to-recognize songs that come off even more bizarre-sounding and ground-breaking because of their appropriation of such classic forms. In the sample-crazed pastiche/​cut n’ paste culture we have today, its nice to see artists pull off cross-associations in such an organic, human manner. A manner that has nothing to do with shock value, and everything to do with what seems impossible to recognize as anything but genuine expression. Anti-irony at its finest, but yet hardly dismissable at face value or just cursory observation.

It’s hard to tell what makes these songs so special. Is it Jeff Mangum’s voice, which is hardly soothing in any classic vocal sense, but renders the songs impossible to imagine in any other way? Is it the way otherwise normal punk and folk song structures suddenly find themselves laden down with the likes of bowed saws, found sounds, and homespun horn arrangements? Is it the lyrics of Mr. Mangum, which, again, are hardly indicative of the overdose of irony so endemic to ​‘90s music?

Feelings are worn on the sleeves, and come in so many flavors of words that it’s hard to comprehend the idea a man could say so much and yet dare for so few people to understand what it is he’s saying. Exact explanations seem impossible, but there is so much more to be gleaned from lines like ​“When we meet on a cloud, I’ll be laughing out loud/I’ll be laughing at everyone I can see/Can’t believe how strange it is to be anything at all…” than just ​“Damn, that dude’s tripped out.”

As it is in Olivia Tremor Control’s music, the mix of bizarre sonics, lyrical freakshows, and normal songcraft definitely feed off each other, and that’s precisely what allows a simple progression in G or C to sound like a revelation on songs like ​“Holland 1945.” In just writing about these records, I feel something I rarely ever feel in any sort of review process. This is the feeling that maybe I couldn’t quite convey how much they’ve meant to me, and that I’ve done a disservice by allowing anything other than a perfect recapitulation of their effect on my life.

But I have to tell myself I’d feel worse if I didn’t write something.

Written by Pearson Greer.

Read more about In The Aeroplane Over The Sea, Merge Records, and Neutral Milk Hotel.

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