Sunday, December 10, 2006

"Can't believe how strange it is to be anything at all"

#14 In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, Neutral Milk Hotel, Merge, 1998

I have a long-lasting love affair with the acoustic guitar. I've always appreciated its more organic sound, the percussive way in which it can be played, and the way it can create community easier than most any other instrument (campfire sing-a-longs anyone?). I received my first and only guitar as a hand-me-down from my aunt during the winter of my freshmen year of college and have never looked back since. Every attempt I have made to create a solo musical project (Math is Power, Fossil Fuels, Soundtrack to the Gadsden Purchase, Your Scripture Legs) has been based off of the acoustic and all the tunes I helped craft with Sandra Lou were based off of my acoustic. It's not that I disliked electric - my preference was more economic than anything else. I already had an acoustic guitar and getting an electric cost dollars, plus you needed cables, pedals, and, oh yeah, an amp. And, according to Sarah, electric guitars were really loud and not welcome in our house (I think this understanding was a holdover from her oldest brother hammering out Dream Theater, Joe Satriani, and Nirvana tunes in their house when she was younger much to the chagrin of her parents....and evidently Sarah as well).

Because of my die-hard adoration of acoustic based music, then, when I first heard In the Aeroplane Over the Sea in 2004 I couldn't believe my ears. Here was genius, stream-of-consciousness songwriting based off a pounding acoustic guitar, enthusiastic, straining vocals, occasional electric fuzz, and guest horn appearances. It was kind of everything I ever wanted to do with music except 100 times better. The exuberant songwriting and performative playing which Neutral Milk Hotel frontman Jeff Mangum infuses into Aeroplane is staggering. Even though it features varied instrumentation, the guiding theme throughout the record is Mangum's voice and his acoustic. Opening duo "King of Carrot Flowers, Part I" and "King of Carrot Flowers, Part 2 & 3" showcases the tone of the record perfectly, moving from Mangum solo acoustic balladry to a horn-driven, fuzzed-out stomp that evokes plenty of emotion: "I love you Jesus Christ, Jesus Christ I love you." Epic "In the Aeroplane Over the Sea" features not a one, not a two, but a three part vibrating saw harmony in the background that dialogues with trombone and Mangum's omnipresent acoustic. The strangely captivating sexual themes of the confessional "Two-Headed Boy," horn embellished "Communist's Daughter", and eight-minute "Oh Comely" are icing on the cake for songs that stand strongly on their own lyrical and vocal dynamism anyway. Instrumental "The Fool" has a chilling effect in a post-Katrina world as it emulates a New Orleans style funeral dirge, and peppy "Holland, 1945" is probably the most anthemic, nonsensical story since The Beatles' "Yellow Submarine." The electric and acoustic meet head-to-head on "Ghost" and trade off with one another while Mangum emotes over solid kick drum, snare and cymbal work, and a supportive horn section. Closer "Two-Headed Boy Part 2" features my favorite melody on the record and comes closest to fulfilling that fireside acoustic fantasy of a youth now passed away that is well aware of its future: "God is a place you will wait for the rest of your life." In many ways, I think of Aeroplane as a soundtrack to an adolescence that I both had and wished I had had - a chronicle of the real and the imagined wrapped tightly in an emotive acoustic blanket capable of smothering all imitators.

1 comment:

Papa Shoegaze said...

this needs a comment....lets see....

pitchfork loves your countdown thus far...avg. 9.1