Review of a Perfect Album – Vol. 1: In the Aeroplane Over the Sea

And one day we will die and our ashes will fly
From the aeroplane over the sea
But for now we are young let us lay in the sun
And count every beautiful thing we can see

Boy is born

Magic with no explanation

Of course everything is possible.  Emerging out of his mother’s belly for no apparent reason at all.  Like all children, it was never explained to him why or how.  So, of course Santa Clause is real.  Of course the Tooth Fairy comes at night to give him money for his lost tooth. Everything is amazing and everything is a miracle.

Unquestioned wonder.

But to the side of this, in his periphery, are the parents. Living an adult life full of joy at times, but also full of struggles, and adult concerns, and getting older, and feeling mortal, and coming to terms with past trauma.

And your mom would drink until’ she was no longer speaking
And dad would dream of all the different ways to die
Each one a little more than he could dare to try

As the boy gets older, the wonders of childhood can’t restrain the realities of pending adulthood.  The horrors that life can bring start to emerge. He can see his world view changing.

The boy fights against this. Knowing of course that life is beautiful.  Despite the ugliness. It has to be. He’s seen it.

And it’s so sad to see the world agree
That they’d rather see their faces fill with flies
All when I’d want to keep white roses in their eyes

He posits resistance.

A great battle against the ugly bits of life that he sees adults are forced to face.  The battle to protect the wonder and the beauty.  In a world where you sometimes can’t run, he faces it head on.

The result is a beautifully twisted and gnarled mess of flesh and bone.  Blood and guts.  Everything is expended.  Nothing is left behind.

Two headed boy
There’s no reason to grieve
The world that you need is wrapped in gold silver sleeves
Left beneath Christmas trees in the snow
And I will take you and leave you alone
Watching spirals of white softly flow
Over your eyelids and all you did
Will wait until the point when you let go

The boy wins.

binkleyPal, maybe at this point you are wondering, “what the hell is he talking about?  Get to the flippin’ point already.”  Well, here it is. I am trying to present my take on Neutral Milk Hotel’s perfect masterpiece….

In the Aeroplane Over the Sea


A folk album for the nineties, this album is perfectly wonderful, perfectly ugly and perfectly weird.  It is as much of an open wound as it is a sunset over a rolling meadow. It is as tortured as it is enlightened.  It is as confused as it is full of clarity.  The album hovers between a dream-like and awakened state, full of child-like surrealism and brutal truths. Like this lyric from the its darkest track Oh Comely

Your father made fetuses with flesh licking ladies
While you and your mother were asleep in the trailer park
Thunderous sparks from the dark of the stadiums
The music and medicine you needed for comforting



I came to this album later in life.  As an adult.  It is one of those albums that I think may have changed my life if I heard it as a teenager.

At first glance the album may seem musically simple, but like most folk music giants, the skill and complexity comes with perfectly timed expressions of feel and emotion that few can match.  However, unlike most folk albums that dabble in the nuanced back and forth of soft and even softer, this album flutters from loud to even louder.  Like a slightly too hot shower washing over you.

At times Jeff Mangum is singing so intensely he overstrains his voice and at times the guitars seem to be to overloading the soundboard.  The result is jarring, intensely compelling, and extremely effective.  Not a note or word is wasted.  Rich and poetic. The lyrics are complex, expressive and innocent. All of these elements combine to give this Pal full body chills (every time mind you) for the entire duration of my experience with the album (It is the only album to do that to me).

Within all the horrors that are described in graphic detail throughout the album, the protagonist remains optimistic.  When making In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, Jeff Mangum has stated that he was inspired by The Diary of Anne Frank. Nowhere is it more clear with the on-the-nose track Holland 1945. A hard driving love letter to the girl that touched him deeply.  I think all the rest of the tracks are Mangum attempting, in some small way, to relate to this amazing teenager who was able to still see the good in people despite all the atrocities around her.

The only girl I’ve ever loved
Was born with roses in her eyes
But then they buried her alive
One evening 1945
With just her sister at her side

anne frank







A perfect album in every way.

Later Pal.



One response to “Review of a Perfect Album – Vol. 1: In the Aeroplane Over the Sea

  1. That was a beautiful tribute to an album, singer, and his muse. The lyrics enhanced your points beautifully. I will have the opportunity to listen to this album.
    One of my favourite musical moments is when a singer’s voice cracks (Michael Stipe in Nightswimming, Marcus Mumford in For Those Below). There is a vulnerability to these moments when you know the singer is putting their emotions before their voice, consumed with that moment. It sounds as if this singer falls into this category of artist.

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