Released in February of 1998, In a Aeroplane Over the Sea had been expected to sell only a moderate amount of copies. Merge Records prepared around 7,000 copies of the album between CD and Record thinking this would suffice, little did the band or record company know that this Indie album would explode into a much bigger ordeal.
It's hard for me to pinpoint the appeal of this album, there appears to be something bothering the singing to write such a lyrically packed album. But on closer inspection, most of the lyrics are written about Anne Frank, a novel concept, but a surprise nonetheless. Another point of this album I have yet to understand is the hidden and nonexistent drama that surrounds this band. Upon inspection little to nothing can be found with internal issues with the band, all I know is front man Jeff Mangum put down his guitar after this album and left. To my knowledge this was done for no reason, odd. With the acclaim that this album would later arise to, it's strange to me that the band would halt their progress at a peak such as this.
Aeroplane opens up with the two song three part suite "The King of Carrot Flowers", this was a really good way to open the album with three distinct sounds in two short tracks. Folk to Noise to Punk, the horns really tie into the sound. I can't tell if the vocals are suppose to sound like they do or if they were done from being lazy, either way this is half the appeal.
Next is the titled track, which I would say holds an accurate representation of the album. Another lighter track, the singing saw really shines on this track, it's a relaxing kind of eeriness. The simple chord structures that surround the songs on this album create the perfect backbone for the oddity of instruments and strange lyrics that coat them.
Following the titled track is "Two-Headed Boy" and "The Fool" "Two-Headed Boy" jumps open with the acoustic, Mangum really leads this album with a deep passion, this track being entirely him. "The Fool" is next as a two minute track, an instrumental track that you get thrown into at the end of "Two-Headed Boy", to me this song really aligns with the artwork on the back of the album.
And then again with no breathing room we are thrown into the next track, the biggest track off the album "Holland, 1945" Another song clearly about Anne Frank, who Mangum spent three days crying about after reading her diary. What I really like about this track is the punch it packs in just 3:15 and the natural distortion the track presents. Immediately at the end of "Holland, 1945" you get noise track "Communist Daughter", perhaps one of the least memorable songs on the album, but finally after no breathing room, we get a rest to flip the album before jumping into the longest track on the album.
"Oh Comely" clocks in at 8:18 and is quite frankly unnerving (no pun intended). The vocal track was done in one take and is very moving, Mangum has as much character and power in his voice as Kurt Cobain, perhaps similar in the vain of "Where Did You Sleep Last Night." This track is also the most Anne Frank inspired where Mangum sings about wanting to go back in time and free her.
All credit simply can not go to Mangum, although he is the main creative voice and sound on this album, the band that was put together is what gives this album it's sound. Eleven musicians played on this record with a variety of instruments including vocals, guitar, organ, floor tom, bowed fuzz bass, tapes, shortwave radio, drums, the singing saw, bowed banjo, accordion, white noise, trumpet, trombone, flugelhorn, euphonium, home organ, air organ, fuzz bass, harmony vocals, one-note piano, zanzithophone, trombone, saxophone, flugelhorn, percussion, and Uilleann pipes. Truely one of the first records of it's time to feature such a variety of instruments on one record and have them play in such a strange way.
"Ghost" is next with distorted tones and jumpy vocals, building up to the next track. The drums explode on this track behind the droning guitar while the horns and singing saw ice the top of the cake.
Another short instrumental follows as an untitled track, one of the highlights of the album with strong Accordion and funky organ. I get a very Flaming Lips vibe from this track. I think the zanzithophone is the main instrument that leads the track.
The album ends on a weird note "Two-Headed Boy Pt. Two" which starts with noise and singing saws. I would say this brings the album full circle, but not quite back to beginning. Hearing this for the second time is almost as satisfying as the first with the chorus at the end of the track holding strong with superb vocals. And just like that, the album finishes and you can hear Mangum set down the acoustic and walk away. Story over.
I still can't explain the mystic and myth that surrounds this album, though I believe there is none, it's hard not to think so with the music displayed. Why I think this album got as big as it did was because of the quality and cohesiveness of the work. There is rarely a moment to breathe while listening to In a Aeroplane Over the Sea and I think that's one of the best parts of it. Noise and filler fills the gaps in between the songs, and the musicianship and talent of the group really shines for a band who just completed their second LP.
You may think this is trash, and you may think this is gold, but the real truth is probably a mixture.
- Ryne's Reviews