Neutral Milk Hotel – In The Aeroplane Over The Sea
Tightening up the excesses of On Avery Island, Jeff Mangum ended up creating one of the cornerstones of 90s indie rock with Neutral Milk Hotel’s second full-length, In The Aeroplane Over The Sea. While still rooted in psychedelia, lo-fi noise pop, and folk, Mangum here achieves a greater sense of clarity in his songwriting, no matter if he is paring his arrangements down to solo acoustic work or allowing his band to play to ecstatic climaxes. This, in turn, puts focus on the most notable feature of Aeroplane: Mangum’s startlingly cathartic vocal style, which ranges from trembling whisper to unrestrained wail, emphasizing his abstract words. While his stream-of-consciousness lyrics have no concrete meaning, his imagery is consistently striking, whether it be depictions of sexuality (“Two Headed Boy”), life and death (“Ghost”), or religion (“The King Of Carrot Flowers, Pts. 2 & 3”). All this can make the album quite demanding—casual listeners may be turned off by Mangum’s eccentric voice and lyrics—but it is one that profoundly rewards upon repeated spins. While In The Aeroplane Over The Sea is frequently harrowing, songs like the jaunty title track make it an ultimately life-affirming listen, one that greatly helped shape the alternative and indie scenes in the following decade.