There was a period of time in my childhood when I listened to Led Zeppelin IV just about once every two weeks — every time I mowed the lawn. There was something compelling about the album that got me really moving, and of which I never tired. A great album is like that — you can listen to it multiple times and not get bored with it.  For me, that album now is the brilliant “The Aeroplane Over The Sea,” by the now disbanded Neutral Milk Hotel. For the last few months or so I have been listening to this brilliant record just about every day, whether on the way to my office or on my way home from the office. I stopped listening to it at the office because one of my co-workers had told me that he found it to be too depressing to hear in the morning.

One of the reasons I love the album is the way that it is, to me, a completely cohesive piece of work. The songs don’t have a central theme — it is not a performance piece with all songs related to a central story or theme, and yet it all goes together wonderfully well.

Here is a live recording of one of my favorite songs on the album, “Holland, 1945.”

I am also crazy about the lyrics. Every time I listen to the songs, I have to think about what Jeff Mangum is singing. The first time I heard the song “King of Carrot Flowers Part Two” I was a little put off as it seemed odd to be listening to someone sing “I love you, Jesus Christ.” One of my coworkers told me that this was the lyricist’s way of adding emphasis — like saying “I love you, damn it!” I recently read over the liner notes from the album and got Mr. Mangum’s thoughts on the lyrics.

[It’s] a song for a old friend and a song for a new friend and now a song for Jesus Christ and since this seems to confuse people I’d like to simply say that I mean what I sing although the theme of endless endless on this album is not based on any religion but more in the belief that all things seem to contain a white light within them that i see as eternal

At least for me, it takes multiple reads or listens to anything that springs forth from the mind of Jeff Mangum including the liner notes.

The album is so excitingly addictive that it inspired one man to recreate it in its entirety using the ukulele. Neutral Uke Hotel was created for fans of the band. It was brought together “to unite obsessed fans of Neutral Milk Hotel for a live performance of their critically acclaimed “In the Aeroplane Over the Sea” album, played in its entirety on ukulele by Shawn Fogel, with accompaniment from members of “Golden Bloom and The Motion Sick.”

Here is a video with Neutral Uke Hotel performing the first two songs from the album.

Give “The Aeroplane Over the Sea” a few listens — it may take awhile to get some of the faster songs. Merge Records recently reissued this album on vinyl, so if you prefer that delicious sound, you have that option as well. It is also available on compact disc and in the more physical free digital format, if those are more your speed.

8 Comments

    1. David,

      Ack! I goofed! The main artist in Neutral Milk Hotel is Jeff Mangum, not Jeff Magnum. When I was writing it, it looked correct. How I love having a brain that switches around letters while I look at them. (Well, not really.)

      To answer your question, apparently from what I have just read, there never was an official break-up. They just stopped playing and recording.

          1. David,

            If I’ve learned anything in 33 years, it’s that music isn’t just putting 4 or 5 people together and saying, “Play!” It’s a combination of the right atmosphere, the right mood, the inspirations — so many things that, when so many years pass, just aren’t there any more.

            Moreover, Paul isn’t the same man he was when he talked about how things would change when he would be sixty-four — and he has passed that age! He can’t properly sing that song because he knows exactly what happened. 🙂 (Just to give one example!)