Sine Macula – In The Aeroplane Over the Sea

sinemacula2.jpgNeutral Milk Hotel’s history is fairly well-known among the indie music faithful. They came onto the scene in Georgia in the early 1990s. Their music was a lo-fi mish-mash of folk, indie, noise rock, and any other bits of music they could grasp onto for a fleet moment. They gained some attention to a larger audience with their brilliant, but very strange, On Avery Island and finally gained a huge following with this album, In the Aeroplane Over the Sea. Shortly after the album was released, and its attentions gathered and swelled, Jeff Mangum, NHM’s principal member, their singer and songwriter and leader, decided he has had enough, and disappeared.

Since then, he’s released an CD of field recordings in eastern Europe, he’s appeared playing instruments on his friend’s albums, and he’s appeared on stage with Apples In Stereo and The Olivia Tremor Control. Every time his face appears in public, or anything related to music has his name attached to it, people come running, desperately hoping for the next Neutral Milk Hotel album. Such was the power of Aeroplane, released in 1998. It asked every question that every frightened, ignorant youth had, and evoked every emotion. It provided very few answers. In this sense, the album is absolutely devastating. That Mangum would open this door for us, and that he would never follow it up. I can’t blame him for it. But I can’t help but wonder at the album that will never be.

Aeroplane is largely inspired by The Diary of Anne Frank. As a result, it’s thematically concerned with death and religion throughout the album, as well as sex, and eternity, all from a childlike perspective.

The first of two series of songs opens the album: “King of Carrot Flowers, Part 1” is immediately followed by “King of Carrot Flowers, Parts 2 & 3”. The first song has a skipping sort of acoustic guitar strum, with Mangum singing about a broken relationship between a mother and father, and about hiding away with a girl he’s in love with while they fight. The second track is where a lot of the religiously uninclined tend to be turned off. It opens with plaintive guitar plucking and Mangum crying, “I love you, Jesus Christ/Jesus Christ I love you, yes I do.” This couplet can be interpreted as a religious declaration, or, given the influences and Mangum’s own religion, it’s more likely a sort of exclamatory blasphemy. The ambiguity, however, gives the lyric a more layered meaning.

The title track comes third, led by a circular guitar pattern, and Mangum’s most hopeful lyrics on the album. The song is about death, but instead of a paranoid, fear of death, Mangum here embraces death and the joy that might be found after escaping life:

What a beautiful face
I have found in this place
That is circling all around the sun
And when we meet on a crowd
I’ll be laughing out loud
I’ll be laughing with everyone I see
Can’t believe how strange it is to be anything at all

It’s a hopeful, peaceful, joyful track. Easily the brightest moment on the album, with Mangum’s voice and guitar augmented by drums and singing saws and horns.

After this is the second of the song series. “Two Headed Boy Part 1” is, itself, unique among the tracks on this album, though for different reasons than “Aeroplane Over the Sea”. While all the other tracks are heavily instrumented with all the accoutrements of NMH’s fuzz-folk music (guitars and drums, dissonant sound machines, flugelhorns and singing saws), this track is stark. Nothing more than Mangum’s voice and guitar, the song sounds almost like a demo track. This barren recording actually improves the song, as Mangum’s voice sings, lonely, about searching for this two headed boy who, it would seem, is somewhere very far away.

Following the dirge-like song, “The Fool”, is the album’s most energetic track, “Holland 1945”. The song is perfect, rollicking noise-rock. Mangum sings, again, about Anne Frank and her death, and, more notably, her resurrection as he imagines it. The lyrics are interesting, and, almost as hopeful as the title track. Here all the words are wrapped in fuzzy distortion and exploding drums, though.

The album progresses with the epic “Oh Comely”, and the brilliant “Ghost”, before finally concluding with “Two Headed Boy Part 2”, and one of my favorite lyrics:

And in my dreams you’re alive
And you’re crying
As your mouth moves in mine, soft and sweet
Rings of flowers round your eyes
And I’ll love you for the rest of your life…

And when we break, we will wait for our miracle
God is a place where some holy spectacle lies
And when we break, we will wait for our miracle
God is a place you will wait for the rest of your life…

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2 Comments

Filed under Music, Sine Macula

2 responses to “Sine Macula – In The Aeroplane Over the Sea

  1. Ryan

    Hey, I’m interested. Why now? This album’s been out for years, why write about it to such an essay-tastic extent when, surely, there’s a million other websites who’ve not only done the same thing, but have done it close to a decade ago?

    Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s an amazing album that seemingly effects everyone who hears it completely. I’m just interested in learning about how it’s popularity is spreading, partially why but mostly how.

    I assume renewed interest was born in 2005 when it was rereleased, combined with it’s prexisting popularity, but still, that’s two years ago.

    If you could, email me back and let me know how you heard about the album? Like I said, I’m interested, thanks. R

  2. I read Anne Frank in middle school and it’s very interesting to know that Neutral Milk Hotel’s album is inspired by her diary. Very creative on their part, likening lyrics to a child’s diary and all. I will listen to this album from a whole new perspective now.

    -OCV

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