Thursday, May 19, 2011

Best... Album... Ever...

Neutral Milk Hotel
In the Aeroplane Over the Sea.  
1998, Merge  
produced by Robert Schneider

Jeff Magnum - guitars, organ, vocals
Jeremy Barnes - drums, organ
Julian Koster - organ, banjo, accordion, saw,
Scott Spillane - horns

Many have declared this album to be the best album ever heard. Win Butler of Arcade Fire cites it as a major influence and the reason the band signed to Merge records. Mark Richardson of Pitchfork gave the album a 10.0 rating and stated:

"A guy in a rock band saying he was emotionally devastated by a book everyone else in America read for a middle-school assignment? I felt embarrassed for him at first, but then, the more I thought about it and the more I heard the record, I was awed. Mangum's honesty on this point, translated directly to his music, turned out to be a source of great power." 

Richardson is referring to Mangum's reading of Anne Frank's diary and the influence that had on him while writing In the Aeroplane Over the Sea. When listening to this album its apparent that this is not a conventional rock album. It defies genre to begin with, and when actually trying to categorize this is often placed within the section of "indie alternative" much like Radiohead, Pavement, Blur, even Jeff Buckley. I suppose this is a good classification, as the other bands defy genres, sometimes from album to album. There is nothing like In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, and then again... everything is like In the Aeroplane Over the Sea.  

I wrote a paper once about William Carlos Williams. For those of you who have no perception of actual American culture, Williams is a poet famous for creating masterpieces from the everyday mundane. One of his most well known poems is as follows: 

So much depends
a red wheel
glazed with rain
beside the white

Williams has been criticized for writing simple poetry that anyone could write. This is true. A wheel barrow in the rain and white chickens have been seen before, however, Williams makes one see these things in a new way and it becomes art.

Henry Sayre helps to give credence to the thought that “anyone can do this” by posing this phrase a different way. It is not that anyone can write how Williams writes, its more that he writes about what anyone else could write about. Sayre states, “Williams places his material in an equally strange environment--the poem--and the wheelbarrow's accidental but very material presence in this new context invests it with a new dignity. It is crucial that Williams's material is banal, trivial: by placing this material in the poem, Williams underscores the distance the material has traveled, and the poem defines a radical split between the world of art and the world of barnyards, between a world which crystallizes the imagination and a world which is a mere exposition of the facts”.

And for all of you who are wondering what my point is, this can also be said of In the Aeroplane Over the Sea. Mangum read a book that most American middle school students read, and yet saw and felt something that not everyone bothers to confront. Perhaps there are emotions that 12 year old students can not grasp, that a more mature person can not walk away from. Perhaps it takes a musical genius to show the beauty behind something everyone is familiar with. Whatever the reason, Mangum was able to do what Williams already perfected, dreams, adolescence, love, life, everyday comedy and tragedy spun into a beautiful work of art. Its the human experience, plain and simple. Its chickens in the rain, and letters about plums, and red wheel barrows, and the rooms of your house, and that weird specimen in your high school science class.

In conclusion, this album is beautiful, unlike anything I've heard, and yet like everything I've ever heard. It is able to grab onto and hold emotion, and speak to what it means to be human in simple ways while being complex musically and lyrically. Humanity once again creates something powerful.

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