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Music / In the Aeroplane Over the Sea

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

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

In the Aeroplane Over the Sea (1998) is the second and final album released by American indie rock band Neutral Milk Hotel. It was recorded in the (at the time) newly-formed Pet Sounds Studio, named after the lauded classic by The Beach Boys, and featured the eclectic instrumentation and bizarre lyricism that the band would be known for.

At the time of its release, frontman Jeff Mangum pressed under 8,000 copies of the album, expecting its sales numbers to be no different from their debut On Avery Island. For a while, he was right; the album was a moderate initial success and generally received enthusiastic responses from critics, but nothing laudatory, and certainly no universal christenings as a modern classic.

Then things changed.

As journalists have retrospectively noted, the release of ITAOTS lined up quite nicely with the rise of the Internet, and as the album and band became common fixtures on message boards and in the circulations of early music outlets like Pitchfork, it received a massive cult following, elevating its status to one of the most acclaimed and celebrated indie rock albums of all time. Many would identify the most well-known aspect of the album's following as the Fountain of Memes its art and lyrics generated on 4chan's /mu/ board — memes that have almost overshadowed the real album itself.

However, this album's sudden burst in popularity was not wholly beneficial to the band. Mangum struggled with the band's newfound attention, and the stress from constant touring and being repeatedly asked to explain his lyrics bore down intensely on his mental health. Things eventually got to the point that he shut himself in his home for days on end and eventually decided that he would not be able to continue writing and performing songs. However, he could not will himself to express this to his fellow band members, as they had just experienced their first substantial success, and some of them had quit jobs to be in the band.

In the midst of Mangum's increasing reclusion, the band had an unspoken, unannounced breakup in 1999 after their tour for ITAOTS, and would not formally cross paths again for over a decade, eventually reuniting to tour from 2013 to 2015 before going on an indefinite hiatus.


  1. "The King of Carrot Flowers Pt. 1" (2:00)
  2. "The King of Carrot Flowers Pts. 2 and 3" (3:06)
  3. "In the Aeroplane Over the Sea" (3:22)
  4. "Two-Headed Boy" (4:26)
  5. "The Fool" (1:53)
  6. "Holland, 1945" (3:15)
  7. "Communist Daughter" (1:57)
  8. "Oh Comely" (8:18)
  9. "Ghost" (4:08)
  10. Untitled (2:16)
  11. "Two-Headed Boy Pt. 2" (5:13)

In the aeroplane over the tropes:

  • Album Title Drop: The page quote, although it says "from the aeroplane over the sea" instead of "in".
  • Call-Back: "Two Headed Boy Pt. 2" references "Two Headed Boy" towards the end.
  • Concept Album: Very often considered to be one about Anne Frank and the Holocaust. Whether it is or not is a topic that we probably shouldn't get into.
  • Dark Reprise: "Two-Headed Boy pt. 2" is a lot darker than "pt. 1."
  • Design Student's Orgasm: A collaboration between Jeff Mangum and Chris Bilheimer, it resembles an old-timey Coney Island postcard.
  • Doo-Wop Progression: Used in the title track.
  • Epic Rocking: "Oh Comely" is over 8 minutes long, but largely consists of Jeff Mangum accompanied with just an acoustic guitar.
  • The Faceless: On the cover, a large hole has been cut out where the woman's head should be, resembling a tamborine or a sliced coconut.
  • Fading into the Next Song: There are multiple examples on the album.
    • "The King of Carrot Flowers Pt. 1" → "The King of Carrot Flowers Pts. 2 and 3"
    • "Two-Headed Boy" → "The Fool"
    • "Communist Daughter" → "Oh Comely"
    • "Ghost" → track 10 → "Two-Headed Boy Pt. 2"
  • Grief Song: Much of the album, which supposedly backfired badly for Mangum when singing about it didn't actually help him handle it.
  • Hidden Track: Sort of. "Oh Comely" includes part of an unreleased track named "Goldaline" at the end, though it's usually considered a part of the song proper.
  • Instrumental: "The Fool"; the untitled tenth track.
  • Location Song: "Holland, 1945" alludes to the life of Anne Frank, who lived in Amsterdam until she and her family were arrested and deported by the Nazis in 1944.
  • Loudness War: This album is really clipped for a folk album, with a dynamic range rating of DR6 and a replay gain value of -9.80 dB. The 2009 vinyl appears to have been sourced from the same master as the CD. This may be a case of digital distortion being used intentionally (the album actually credits "white noise" as a musical instrument), but it can still be really disorienting at first.
  • No Punctuation Period: The insert for the album writes the lyrics as one giant run-on sentence.
  • No Title: Track 10, sometimes referred to as "The Penny Arcade in California".
  • Painting the Medium: The final line of "Two-Headed Boy pt. 2" (and by extension, the album) is "But don't hate her when she gets up to leave." Immediately afterwards, Mangum audibly puts down his guitar and leaves the room.
  • Studio Chatter: You can very faintly hear someone yell "Holy shit!" at the end of "Oh Comely." According to Word of God, this is because Mangum had gone into the recording booth for a sound check, but decided in the moment to perform the entire song and did it perfectly in one take.
  • Title Track: The third track.
  • Three Chords and the Truth: A lot of tracks on this album have only three or four chords ("The King of Carrot Flowers Pts. 1-3," "Ghost," "Oh Comely," and the title track, just to name a few).
  • Unplugged Version: An odd case; there are very few electric or electronic instruments on the album, but all those acoustic instruments are fed through enough distortion to make the album very loud.
  • We All Die Someday: The title track acknowledges this and notes on how we shouldn't let that one thing keep us down, and that there's so much beauty in life to see before it's too late.