“If there’s one track that I’m probably going to regret putting in the top ten of this thing, it’s this one, care of the outfit known as Neutral Milk Hotel, which seems to be concerned with dying and death and whatever happens (or doesn’t) afterwards, which of course throws light back on before, life itself, the whole mad aeroplane journey across the wide open ocean of eternity. But it’s too recent, I fear, too close. The song hasn’t had time to flip through its half-life, get overplayed or whatever, die a death and then re-emerge as … well, who knows? Because that’s what music does, for me anyway. The stuff I truly love. And right now, right here, June sometime, calendar year 2001, I’m f***ing in love with In The Aeroplane Over The Sea, the album and the song, and the band, about whom I know pretty much nothing beyond what the album cover tells me … and it’s a great f***ing album cover, the kind of thing you have to have on vinyl if only to maximize the size of the imagery.
Which honestly is why I bought it. I liked what I was hearing in the record store but it was the cover that sealed the deal. The whole thing throws me back to a time when the whole package mattered absolutely, you wouldn’t think of not listening to it all in one go, headphones on, the cover in your lap. And then there’s the voice, the way it wraps itself around the delirious gush of words, young man by name of Jeff Mangum finding an entirely new way to deliver the poetry of his soul. And the band‘s right there with him the whole way, your basic bass-drums-guitar core, but also organ trumpet flugelhorn trombone saxophone zanzithophone banjo – whatever it takes to punch a hole through to a whole new sonic universe. Or not. Because I could be wrong. It could be too soon to lay so much praise on any record. It is too soon. But what can I do? I’m in love. I’m a fool.” (Philip Random)
“I’m pretty sure this is one of those it’s-not-about-what-you-think-it’s-about songs, even if you think the ‘I Love You Jesus Christ’ stuff is just being ironic. Because there’s a level of sublime madness at work here in the Neutral Milk Hotel (call it surrealism, I guess) where Jesus is at least as real and miraculous as any carrot flowers, but the higher reality isn’t in the words anyway, it’s where they allow the music to go, the great waves unleashed, a perfect storm, except its not wind and rain but multi-colours, psychedelic and pure … and yeah, looking down from on high, the Lord God in Heaven smiles and knows that it is good, because multi-coloured psychedelia never killed anybody, just amused and enthused and perhaps confused them.” (Philip Random)
Neutral Milk Hotel‘s 1999 album, In The Aeroplane Over The Sea gets a special nod here for giving us the most recent selections on the list. Though it should be noted that the entire decade of the 1990s is rather woefully neglected mainly because Philip Random had mostly stopped buying new vinyl by then. “CDs were the thing at first, and then mp3s. But something about In The Aeroplane Over The Sea – I just had to have it in full twelve-inch form. And not just for the cover, though it’s a hell of a cover. Nah, it just didn’t feel right unless I was getting some vinyl hiss and ticks, like a throwback to those times when the blemishes mattered. The blemishes always matter, which main Neutral Milkman Jeff Mangum makes clear every time he opens his mouth and thus his soul, young man with a whole new way of turning breath to voice. And the whole album’s strong. Not an unnecessary moment. Including the few seconds it takes to flip it over between sides.”