In An Aeroplane Over the Sea, a beautiful and psychedelic album by Neutral Milk Hotel, is actually about Anne Frank. Throughout the album Jeff Mangum, the vocalist and lyricist, explains how after reading The Diary of Anne Frank, he fell in love with her.

This is found in the subtle, yet conspicuous phrases, links and hints, which are throughout the lyrics. In one example, Jeff refers to how Anne was his only love, how she was killed in 1945, and died just weeks days before the end of World War II.

Also, on the official site for Neutral Milk Hotel (http://www.neutralmilkhotel.net/), on the Links page there is a link for the Anne Frank House.

For the novice listener, this album may seem...trivial, plain, grating, and simple. This feeling is soon sated, after the third listen of the entire record. Whenever I lend out this CD, in any shape or form, I always advise the recipient to listen to the complete album three times, before any judgements are passed.

This album is, in my opinion, deeply sensual, warm, confiding, and --if you will-- moist. Personally, I am still infatuated with Oh Comely, although I still enjoy the entire CD immensely. The first few chords at the beginning always make me happy, as my brain recognizes of what is to come...

While the other two nodes here give a good deal of information about the album and especially about Jeff Mangum's Anne Frank fixation, there is little here telling how the album actually sounds.


The album opens with a roughly strummed folky acoustic guitar, and soon Jeff Mangum's reedy voice enters, singing "When you were young you were the king of carrot flowers, and how you built a tower tumbling through the trees, in holy rattlesnakes that fell all 'round your feet". The first track, King Of Carrot Flowers, Part One is lyrically a surreal journey through what appears to be the life of a young man, with references to love and sex and parental abuse. The track ends with "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." The track glides along on the aforementioned acoustic guitar, while instruments that seem to be bagpipes hum along behind him.


The second track (King of Carrot Flowers, Parts Two and Three) opens with a bagpipe drone, then a picked acoustic guitar, until Mangum cries "I LOVE YOU JESUS CHRIST, JESUS CHRIST, I LOVE YOU, YES I DO." and drums and a fuzz bass growl behind him, and he continues on "and on the lazy days the dogs dissolve and drain away, the world goes and all awaits the day, today we are already waiting!!" then a horn section blares and soon the song evolves into a fast-tempo punk tune, led by distorted fuzz bass and Mangum's cracking wails.


About the religious references on that track, Mangum says in the liner notes:
"a song for an old friend and a song for a new friend, and a song for jesus christ and since this seems to confuse people i'd like to simply say that i mean what i sing although the theme of endless endless on this album is not based on any religion but more in the belief that all things seem to contain a white light within them that i see as eternal".

The third track is an acoustic ballad, In The Aeroplane Over The Sea, which shows off Mangum's lyrical prowess with lines like "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". Behind him, the strange instrumentation howls like the wind, and there is even a short bagpipe solo (!) before the song continues in a darker direction, with a a strange intrumental break that sounds like the instruments themselves are in pain.


Two-Headed Boy is another strange and quirky acoustic tune, with an especially pained vocal performance from Mangum, and lines like "Two-headed boy, put on sunday shoes, and danced round the room to accordion keys, with the needle that stings in your heart." At first, many tracks, especially this one, may bother the ears of new listeners, because of Mangum's quivery, technically "weak" singing voice that aims for emotion above all else. However, this "technically bad singer" approach never hurt anyone.


The next track, ( The Fool), is an instrumental, a depressing marching band dirge, with an aching melody. The horns themselves actually sound mournful.


However, the next song, Holland, 1945 is not any sort of dirge. Another fuzz-bass-powered punk tune, this one has lines that resemble '65 Dylan, "The only girl I 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, and only weeks before the guns all came and rained on everyone! Now she's a little boy in Spain, playing pianos filled with flame, on empty rings around the sun, all sing to say my dream has come!" As lyolith explained above, this album has many references to Anne Frank, but this is the only song explicitly referencing her. A fine pop tune, and possibly the best song on the album.


...and if it's not, it's surely Communist Daughter a dark, low-key acoustic ballad with sad horn crescendos, swooshes of background fuzz, and Mangum softly humming lines like "Sweet communist, the communist daughter, standing on the seaweed water, semen stains the mountaintops." Not even 2 minutes along, this is possibly the most affecting song on the album.


Oh, Comely is regarded as the album's epic, clocking in at an impressive 8:18. If this album was the modern Highway 61 Revisited or Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band it would be respectively Desolation Row or A Day In The Life although, in my opinion, not nearly as good as either. This song is way too long, and even though it has some superb lyrical passages, "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, so make all your fat fleshy fingers to moving and pluck all your silly strings, and bend all your notes for me, soft silly music is meaningful, magical, the movements were beautiful, all in your ovaries, all of them milking with green fleshy flowers while powerful pistons were sugary sweet machines smelling of semen all under the garden was all you were needing when you still believed in me." That's probably the most unique description of sex I've ever read.


After Oh, Comely, Ghost is a fuzz-laden acoustic rocker, with lines line " and she was norn in a bottle rocket, 1929 with wings that ringed around a socket right between her spine, all drenched in milk an' holy water pouring from the sky, I know that she will live forever, she won't ever die." Halfway through, a bagpipe enters, and the song keeps building until it erupts into Untitled, a bagpipe-led electric rock instrumental, with almost Who-esque guitar.


Finally, King Of Carrot Flowers, Part 2 ends this short album, which only clocks in at 39 minutes, but makes an impression on most of them. This is a dark, emotionally affecting acoustic song, ending with the line "Brother, see we are one in the same and you left with your head filled with flames and you watched as your brains fell out thru your teeth, push the pieces in place, make your smile sweet to see, don't you take this away, I'm still wanting my face on your cheek, and when we break we'll wait for our miracle, God is a place where some holy spectacle lies, God is a place you will wait for the rest of your life. Two-headed boy, she is all you could need, she will feed your tomatoes and radio wires and retire to sheets safe and clean, but don't hate her when she gets up to leave." The album ends with the sound of Mangum putting his guitar down, and walking away.


This album is truly unique, there is no other band like it, though there are some lame imitators these days. Mangum no longer makes music like this, and is working on electronic music now. This album is praised, and it is great, but it doesn't quite reach the hype it recieves. It was picked by Magnet as the best album of the Nineties. Not only is it only 40 minutes long, but it's quite samey. (Notice how many songs were described as "dark acoustic ballads"?) Overall though, this album is a wonderous and whimsical (Ooh, not only was that some good alliteration, but "whimsical" is about the perfect word to describe this album) and there is nothing else like it. It's dark, beautiful, mystical, and a little too samey, but it's a flawed classic nonetheless.

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