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Neutral Milk Hotel: In The Aeroplane Over The Sea

Album: In The Aeroplane Over The Sea
Label: Merge

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On In The Aeroplane Over The Sea, Neutral Milk Hotel singer Jeff Magnum sounds like a good-natured folkie trapped in an absurdist carnival of World War II Europe. Amidst layers of regal horns, tales of Siamese twins, and a visit to a ghost carnival, Magnum and his guitar make great strides to delve into spirituality, mythology, mortality, and ultimately safety. "The King Of Carrot Flowers Pt. One" is the strongest song on the album, boasting sweet melodies and accurately narrating stories of the down-and-out. In The Aeroplane was recorded and produced with a four-track candor that would satisfy the most Bob Pollardly of Bob Pollards, and the band creates moments of beautiful instrumental irony atop genuinely earnest lyrics. But there are weak moments, too: In The Aeroplane is generally more intriguing as a concept than as a collection of listenable songs, and it occasionally breaks into whiny interludes, while "Ghost" is a bit of a melancholy bore. But Neutral Milk Hotel knows how to create music that finds a way into your head without invitation; melodies not immediately interesting come creeping back when you least expect them. Much of the album begs questions of purpose, authenticity, and ironic intention, but for the most part, it's poignant and refreshingly inventive.