In the Aeroplane Over the Sea

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In the Aeroplane Over the Sea
In the aeroplane over the sea album cover copy.jpg
Studio album by Neutral Milk Hotel
ReleasedFebruary 10, 1998
RecordedJuly – September 1997
StudioElephant 6
ProducerRobert Schneider
Neutral Milk Hotel chronology
On Avery Island
In the Aeroplane Over the Sea
Ferris Wheel on Fire
Singles from '
  1. "Holland, 1945"
    Released: October 13, 1998

In the Aeroplane Over the Sea is the second and final album by the American indie rock band Neutral Milk Hotel. It was released in the United States on February 10, 1998 on Merge Records and in the United Kingdom in May 1998 on Blue Rose Records. Songwriter Jeff Mangum moved from Athens, Georgia to Denver, Colorado to prepare the album's material with producer Robert Schneider at Schneider's new Pet Sounds Studio in the home of musician Jim McIntyre. Mangum wrote many of the lyrics about Anne Frank, the teenage diarist who died in a Nazi concentration camp.

It was the sixth-best-selling vinyl album of 2008.[1]


In the early 1990s, songwriter Jeff Mangum formed the Elephant Six musical collective in Athens, Georgia, which grew to encompass dozens of bands.[2]


In the Aeroplane Over the Sea contains influences of Eastern European folk, sound collage, and free jazz,[3] and features instruments including the musical saw, euphonium, Uilleann pipes,[3] accordion, brass, organ, and distorted guitars.[4] According to Pitchfork, the album "shifts from acoustic folkiness to loud, fast punk rock with little or no warning".[5]


Mangum wrote much of the album about Anne Frank, a teenage girl who died in a Nazi concentration camp. Before recording Neutral Milk Hotel's previous album, On Avery Island, Mangum read The Diary of a Young Girl, the diary Frank kept while she was in hiding during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands.[4] He was deeply affected by the book and spent "about three days crying", having dreams of travelling back in time and saving her;[4] this inspired the lyrics of "Oh Comely", in which Mangum sings: "I know they buried her body with others / her sister and mother and 500 families / and will she remember me 50 years later / I wished I could save her in some sort of time machine."[6] The album references Frank obliquely throughout, creating a loose concept album.[3]

The song "Ghost", which contains the line "Ghost ghost I know you live within me", was inspired by a ghost Mangum believed lived in his house and "kept waking me up". The line is also a reference to Frank.[4] Mangum recorded his part of "Oh Comely" in one take; at the end of the song, a stunned band member can be heard shouting "Holy shit!"[2] The final track, "Two Headed Boy, Pt. Two", concludes with the sound of Mangum setting down his guitar and walking away.[2]

Cover art[edit]

The postcard art edited by Chris Bilheimer to create the album cover

The cover art was created by Mangum and R.E.M. designer Chris Bilheimer.[7] Mangum showed Bilheimer an old European postcard depicting people bathing at a resort, which Bilheimer cropped and altered to create the cover.[8] Elephant Six musician Bryan Poole said that "Mangum was always into that old-timey, magic, semi-circus, turn-of-the-century, penny arcade kind of imagery."[8] Bilheimer also designed a broadsheet-style lyrics sheet for the album, and helped title "Holland, 1945" in the process; Mangum wanted to use either "Holland" or "1945", and Bilheimer suggested he use both.[9]


Merge Records expected to sell 5,500 CD and 1,600 vinyl copies of In the Aeroplane over the Sea.[10] It was the sixth-highest selling vinyl album of 2008.[11] In 2008, Slate reported that the album was selling 25,000 copies a year.[2] By 2013, sales in the United States had exceeded 393,000.[12]

Critical reception[edit]

Professional ratings
Review scores
AllMusic5/5 stars[13]
Encyclopedia of Popular Music5/5 stars[14]
Entertainment WeeklyB+[15]
Mojo4/5 stars[16]
Rolling Stone3/5 stars[19]
The Rolling Stone Album Guide4.5/5 stars[20]
Uncut4/5 stars[22]

In a contemporary review of In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, the College Music Journal called the album "a true lo-fi pop landmark" and cited "Holland, 1945" as a highlight.[23] Pitchfork's M. Christian McDermott described the album as "just as catchy as it is frightening" and wrote that it "does a credible job of blending Sgt. Pepper with early 90s lo-fi".[5] Spin's Erik Himmelsbach described it as an "unsettling travelogue torn between melancholy and glee", writing that Mangum "keeps you fixed on his every bewildered word".[21] Jason Ankeny of AllMusic wrote: "lo-fi yet lush, impenetrable yet wholly accessible, In the Aeroplane Over the Sea is either the work of a genius or an utter crackpot, with the truth probably falling somewhere in between." Ankeny also praised Mangum's vocals as "far more emotive" than they were on On Avery Island, and wrote of the lyrics: "Mangum spins his words with the rapid-fire intensity of a young Dylan, the songs are far too cryptic and abstract to fully sink in — In the Aeroplane Over the Sea is undoubtedly a major statement, but just what it's saying is anyone's guess."[13]

Robert Christgau of the Village Voice rated the album a "neither".[24] While he later wrote that the album "convinced alt diehards that maturity can be just as weird as growing up", he also called it "a funereal jape that gets my goat."[25] Ben Ratliff of Rolling Stone felt the album lacked editing and criticized Mangum's "strained" and "affectless" singing. He concluded: "For those not completely sold on its folk charm, Aeroplane is thin-blooded, woolgathering stuff."[19]


After completing a tour for In the Aeroplane, Mangum disappeared from the public eye, tired of performing and explaining his lyrics. His bandmates were keen to capitalize on the album's success, but Mangum was not interested, and declined an offer to open for R.E.M.[2] In the words of Slate, "At the end of Aeroplane's final song, you can hear Jeff Mangum [...] set down his guitar and walk off, and [...] that's exactly what Mangum did in real life."[2]

Subsequent reviews from Pitchfork and Rolling Stone were more positive; the latter gave the album four and half of five stars in its 2004 The New Rolling Stone Album Guide: Completely Revised and Updated 4th Edition, with reviewer Roni Sarig writing, "Mangum had put together something resembling an actual band, resulting in a far richer and more organic sound [than On Avery Island]. What's more, the songwriting had blossomed far beyond the bounds of Elephant 6 (or indie rock as a whole), with Mangum etching out timeless transcendentalist pop steeped in a century of American music (from funeral marches to driving punk)." Sarig also commended the album for its "passionate acoustic-guitar strums, irresistible melodies, and lyrics that rarely feel obtuse even when they're nonsensical."[26] Pitchfork, in a 2005 review written by Mark Richardson, gave the album a perfect score. Richardson praised the lyrical directness and "kaleidoscopic" musical style.[18] PopMatters named a reissue of the album one of the best of 2005, and wrote, "Aeroplane is arguably the pinnacle achievement of the Elephant 6 Collective (including bands like the Apples in Stereo, Circulatory System, Beulah), but its influence is wider still, in the obvious places (the Decemberists, the Arcade Fire) but also far beyond."[27] In 2014, Spin regarded the album as "a classic" and the band's "psych-folk opus."[28]

Arcade Fire frontman Win Butler named Aeroplane as a chief reason that his band signed to Merge.[29] Jesse Lacey of Brand New called In the Aeroplane Over the Sea "the greatest record ever written", and has covered "Holland, 1945", "Oh Comely", and "Two-Headed Boy, Part Two" in concert.[30][31] In August 2010 The Swell Season covered "Two-Headed Boy" for The A.V. Club's A.V. Undercover series.[32] Later, in the same year, American musical duo Dresden Dolls also covered "Two-Headed Boy" for The A.V. Club's Holiday Undercover series.[33] In 2010 a group called Neutral Uke Hotel began touring playing ukulele covers of all the songs on the album.[34] Phish covered "In the Aeroplane Over the Sea" in a concert on 26 June 2010 at Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia, Maryland.[35]

Track listing[edit]

All tracks written by Jeff Mangum, except where noted; horn arrangements by Robert Schneider and Scott Spillane.

1."The King of Carrot Flowers, Pt. One"2:00
2."The King of Carrot Flowers, Pts. Two & Three" (Jeremy Barnes, Julian Koster, Mangum, Spillane)3:06
3."In the Aeroplane Over the Sea"3:22
4."Two-Headed Boy"4:26
5."The Fool" (Spillane)1:53
6."Holland, 1945"3:15
7."Communist Daughter"1:57
8."Oh Comely"8:18
11."Two-Headed Boy, Pt. Two"5:13
Total length:39:55


Neutral Milk Hotel

Additional musicians


  • Chris Bilheimer – art direction
  • Jeff Mangum – art direction
  • Brian Dewan – "Flying Victoria" illustration


Publication Country Accolade Year Rank United States The 100 Greatest Indie Rock Albums of All Time[36] 2009 #2
Blender U.S. 100 Greatest Indie-Rock Albums Ever[37] 2007 #32
Entertainment Weekly U.S. Indie Rock 25[38] 2008
Magnet U.S. Top 60 Albums, 1993-2003[39] 2003 #1
NME United Kingdom The 500 Greatest Albums Of All Time[40] 2013 #98
Nude as the News U.S. The 100 Most Compelling Albums of the 90s[41] 1999 #3
Pitchfork U.S. Top 100 Albums of the 1990s[42] 2003 #4
Paste U.S. The Best 90 Albums of the 1990s[43] 2012 #2
Q magazine United Kingdom Top 30 Albums of the Past 25 Years[44] 2010 #16
Spin U.S. 100 Greatest Albums, 1985-2005[45] 2005 #97
Village Voice U.S. Pazz & Jop: Albums of the Year[46] 1998 #15

(*) denotes an unranked list.


  1. ^ Kreps, Daniel (January 8, 2009). "Radiohead, Neutral Milk Hotel Help Vinyl Sales Almost Double in 2008". Rolling Stone. Retrieved March 5, 2009.
  2. ^ a b c d e f Clark, Taylor (2008-02-26). "The Salinger of Indie Rock". Slate. ISSN 1091-2339. Retrieved 2017-11-25.
  3. ^ a b c "Neutral Milk Hotel's In the Aeroplane Over the Sea | Pitchfork". Retrieved 2017-11-18.
  4. ^ a b c d "Neutral Milk Hotel". 2003-04-23. Archived from the original on 2003-04-23. Retrieved 2017-11-18.
  5. ^ a b McDermott, M. Christian. "Neutral Milk Hotel: In the Aeroplane Over the Sea". Pitchfork. Archived from the original on September 22, 2004. Retrieved November 16, 2007.
  6. ^ Richardson, Mark (26 September 2005). "Neutral Milk Hotel: In the Aeroplane Over the Sea Album Review | Pitchfork". Retrieved 18 November 2017.
  7. ^ Cooper 2005, p. 79.
  8. ^ a b Cooper 2005, p. 81.
  9. ^ Cooper 2005, p. 82.
  10. ^ "1998: Neutral Milk Hotel's 'In the Aeroplane Over the Sea' Takes Flight SPIN". Retrieved 2017-11-18.
  11. ^ "Radiohead, Neutral Milk Hotel Help Vinyl Sales Almost Double In 2008 - Rolling Stone". Retrieved 2018-03-26.
  12. ^ "Neutral Milk Hotel Reunites, Announces Tour Dates". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 2017-11-18.
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  14. ^ Larkin, Colin (2009). "Neutral Milk Hotel". The Encyclopedia of Popular Music (4th ed.). Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-199-72636-1. Retrieved March 5, 2017.
  15. ^ Brunner, Rob (March 6, 1998). "In the Aeroplane Over the Sea". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved November 13, 2015.
  16. ^ "Neutral Milk Hotel: In the Aeroplane Over the Sea". Mojo: 130. 2005. Its opaque, surrealistic narratives about wartime Europe and two-headed children proceed in a breathless, mellifluous torrent across a lo-fi landscape of thrumming acoustics, soaring brass and, on the title track, massed bowed saws.
  17. ^ Fadele, Dele (May 23, 1998). "Neutral Milk Hotel – In The Aeroplane Over The Sea". NME. Archived from the original on August 17, 2000. Retrieved November 13, 2015.
  18. ^ a b Richardson, Mark (September 26, 2005). "Neutral Milk Hotel: In the Aeroplane Over the Sea". Pitchfork. Retrieved November 16, 2007.
  19. ^ a b Ratliff, Ben (February 13, 1998). "In the Aeroplane Over the Sea". Rolling Stone. Archived from the original on July 16, 2010. Retrieved August 14, 2015.
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  21. ^ a b Himmelsbach, Erik (March 1998). "Neutral Milk Hotel: In the Aeroplane Over the Sea". Spin. 14 (3): 134–35. ISSN 0886-3032. Retrieved August 14, 2015.
  22. ^ "Neutral Milk Hotel: In the Aeroplane Over the Sea". Uncut: 127. 2005. [W]ith unhinged evangelical urgency and ambitiously ramshackle arrangements...
  23. ^ Helms, Colin (November 10, 2000). "Neutral Milk Hotel: In the Aeroplane Over the Sea". CMJ. Archived from the original on February 2, 2009. Retrieved November 16, 2007.
  24. ^ Christgau, Robert (2000). "Neutral Milk Hotel: In the Aeroplane over the Sea". Christgau's Consumer Guide: Albums of the '90s. St. Martin's Press. ISBN 0-312-24560-2. Retrieved November 15, 2007.
  25. ^ Christgau, Robert (March 2, 1999). "La-Di-Da-Di-Di? Or La-Di-Da-Di-Da?". The Village Voice. Retrieved November 15, 2007.
  26. ^ Brackett & Hoard 2004, pp. 579–80.
  27. ^ Layman, Will (December 19, 2005). "Best Reissues of 2005: 17 Neutral Milk Hotel, In the Aeroplane Over the Sea (Domino)". PopMatters. Retrieved November 16, 2007.
  28. ^ "1998: Neutral Milk Hotel's 'In the Aeroplane Over the Sea' Takes Flight". Spin. July 23, 2014. Retrieved November 22, 2015.
  29. ^ Schreiber, Ryan (February 14, 2005). "Interview: The Arcade Fire". Pitchfork. Retrieved November 17, 2007.
  30. ^ Carioli, Carly (May 1, 2007). "Brand New singer covers Neutral Milk Hotel's 'Oh Comely'". The Phoenix. Retrieved December 24, 2007.
  31. ^ "Jesse Lacey playing Neutral Milk Hotel's Two Headed Boy Part 2 at Mr. Smalls Theatre in Pittsburgh, PA on August 4th, 2008" on YouTube. Retrieved on July 16, 2012.
  32. ^ "The Swell Season covers Neutral Milk Hotel". The A.V. Club. August 10, 2010. Retrieved July 16, 2012.
  33. ^ "Dresden Dolls cover Neutral Milk Hotel". The A.V. Club. December 15, 2010. Retrieved April 9, 2013.
  34. ^ Padgett, Ray (August 6, 2010). "Song of the Day: Neutral Uke Hotel, 'The King of Carrot Flowers Pt. One'". Cover Me. Retrieved July 16, 2012.
  35. ^ "In the Aeroplane Over the Sea History". Retrieved May 12, 2016.
  36. ^ "The 100 Greatest Indie Rock Albums of All Time". March 23, 2009. Retrieved February 1, 2011.
  37. ^ "100 Greatest Indie-Rock Albums Ever". Stereogum. November 14, 2007. Retrieved February 12, 2011.
  38. ^ "Indie Rock 25". Entertainment Weekly. March 20, 2008. Retrieved January 4, 2013.
  39. ^ "‘The Evidence’: Magnet's Top 60 Albums, 1993-2003 (10th Anniversary Issue)". Magnet. Retrieved on November 15, 2007.
  40. ^ "The 500 Greatest Albums Of All Time". NME. Retrieved July 11, 2018.
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  42. ^ LeMay, Matt (November 17, 2003). "Top 100 Albums of the 1990s: In the Aeroplane Over the Sea". Pitchfork. Retrieved November 15, 2007.
  43. ^ Jackson, Josh (February 24, 2012). "The 90 Best Albums of the 1990s". Paste. Retrieved July 28, 2014.
  44. ^ "Q's top 30 albums of the past 25 years: 16. In the Aeroplane Over the Sea - Neutral Milk Hotel". The Independent. December 23, 2010. Retrieved December 23, 2010.
  45. ^ "100 Greatest Albums, 1985–2005". Spin. June 20, 2005. Retrieved February 1, 2011.
  46. ^ "The 1998 Pazz & Jop Critics Poll". The Village Voice. March 2, 1999. Retrieved November 27, 2009.


Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]