Neutral Milk Hotel released In The Aeroplane Over The Sea in 1998, only to hastily disband. Since then the reclusive nature of singer Jeff Mangum has added to its mystique; in 2006 an internet rumour mutated to a lead article in Rolling Stone chronicling the great return of Neutral Milk Hotel. As one of the 200,000 who bought the album post-98 and fell in love too late, its disputation led to heartache.
The album is a concept album, but in the loosest sense of the term. Mangum cited in many interviews the influence of The Diary of Anne Frank upon his writing, something evident from the overt – “I know they buried her body with others/ her sister and mother and 500 families” – to the ambiguous – the song ‘Two-Headed Boy’ has been construed as a reference to the two boys Anne fell in love with, often writing how they felt like one person. However, to agonise solely over the context would be to miss the depths of its beauty. From ‘Communist Daughter’, which chronicles an awkward adolescence where “semen stains the mountaintops” to the longing nostalgia of ‘King of Carrot Flowers’, Mangum seems to assert a belief that youth holds a surrealism unrivalled by the most perceptive artist.
The album evokes this refrain best when taken as a whole; listening to ‘Holland, 1945’ emerge in double time from the instrumental track ‘The Fool’, fostering a more hysterical lyricism that in turn emaciates under the aching imagery of ‘Oh Comely’ (“far away from here, there is sun and spring and green forever”) one begins to understand the people who foam at the mouths about the ‘shuffle’ generation. In The Aeroplane Over The Sea is too complete to be taken to pieces, it demands to be understood as a whole.