25 Years Later: In the Aeroplane Over the Sea


The album cover for In the Aeroplane Over the Sea (©️Merge Records).

Brian Dyer, Social Media Editor

There are many different albums that may come to mind when thinking about indie folk music. However, there is no doubt that one of the most iconic releases of the genre is Neutral Milk Hotel’s album In the Aeroplane Over the Sea. Twenty-five years later, it’s time to re-examine its significance in the music industry today.

Neutral Milk Hotel started as a home recording project by Jeff Mangum, and after receiving a bit of exposure from the release of the single “Everything Is”, he decided to crank out more music under the handle. He then recorded and published the album On Avery Island, which received modest reviews and sales. Mangum would then recruit three more musicians to create a second album, which would become In the Aeroplane Over the Sea.

The album is noted for its combination of indie folk with psychedelic rock (Pitchfork originally described it as a blend of “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band with early 90s lo-fi”). Alongside typical rock instruments like guitar and drums are unconventional ones like the singing saw and uilleann pipes, as well as the occasional incorporation of brass instruments. Another thing that distinguishes Neutral Milk Hotel from other bands is their intentionally low-quality sound, which some describe as “fuzz rock”. Jeff Mangum’s far-reaching lyrics on the album are also something to take in as well. They range from topics of love to depictions of Anne Frank’s life, and are mostly surrealistic and opaque. On top of that, his unbridled singing style only adds to the emotional appeal of the album. All of these defining elements add to create an eclectic sound that has been widely acclaimed by both critics and the general public.

This album has inspired a multitude of future artists to follow in a similar vein, such as Bright Eyes, the Decemberists, and Arcade Fire. It is also believed that the album was part of what caused the revived interest in vinyl records when it became the sixth best-selling vinyl in 2008.

With all of these things in mind, there is no doubt that this album is one of the defining and influential releases of the 1990s.