Neutral Milk Hotels In the Aeroplane Over the Sea (33 1/3 Series)

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What makes the album cover such a classic, though, is the transformation of the source material. Replacing the bathing beauty's head with a drum and cropping the image so tightly recasts a mundane early 20th century "greetings from our seaside vacation" postcard as a surrealist painting. Are the cover's protagonists waving at the "aeroplane over the sea"?

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Are they survivors of a ship or plane wreck? Why do the two figures in the background seem distressed? An early draft of the back cover made use of the bottom half of the postcard, showing the lady swimmer's feet -- an image that would have resolved some of the front cover's ambiguities.


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Placing the young woman back on her perch atop the pier would have removed some of the magic of the album's sleeve. Perhaps Mangum recognized this; regardless, he rejected the proposed back cover. It's not my record!

In the Aeroplane Over the Sea

And ultimately I think he made a good decision. It was a good lesson well learned.

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We'll give Cooper the last word: "Although In the Aeroplane Over the Sea is not the most famous record Chris Bilheimer worked on, nor the best selling, it remains the design he's most proud of, and it occupies a prominent place in his portfolio, where music industry people regularly exclaim over it. At that point, there was no word of new music, no shows, no interviews—in the pre-social media days, you really could disappear.

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Meanwhile, the previous few years in indie rock had been dominated by bands like the Strokes, the White Stripes, and the Hives—bands with fashion sense and an air of cool who tapped into the drugs and sex and swagger of rock mythology. In this context, Neutral Milk Hotel felt like a quaint relic from another time. But beneath the chatter of the mainstream something interesting was happening. People were still discovering this strange and otherworldly record, and communities of fans continued to form around it.

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Because he was inaccessible, there was no outlet for connection other than the record itself and other fans who shared a passion. By doing nothing, Neutral Milk Hotel developed a cult. Another decade and a half on, after a reissue that found NMH being praised by of-the-moment indie acts like Arcade Fire, Franz Ferdinand, and Caribou, and then following the reformation of the band for a lengthy reunion tour in this decade, In the Aeroplane Over the Sea is still finding people.


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  5. As intense as the devotion among the faithful is, there is an equally intense dislike of the record, from both casual music fans and critics and, in some cases, former fans. What is the root of this conflict? Another decade and a half on, after a reissue that found NMH being praised by of-the-moment indie acts like Arcade Fire, Franz Ferdinand, and Caribou, and then following the reformation of the band for a lengthy reunion tour in this decade, In the Aeroplane Over the Sea is still finding people.

    Neutral Milk Hotel's In the Aeroplane Over the Sea

    As intense as the devotion among the faithful is, there is an equally intense dislike of the record, from both casual music fans and critics and, in some cases, former fans. What is the root of this conflict? And that perspective is the key to how the record is received, and why it endures.

    When you are listening to it, there are no adults around. The songs are filled with parents , yes, but we never know who they are or what they think. Aeroplane is a place of nameless sensations and frightening desires, where historical imagery is scrambled, and lines between past, present, and future are porous. It puts ultimate faith in raw feelings, the kind that consume you without logic or sense.

    The energy emitted by the tension between those who love Aeroplane and those who are repelled by it, like the center of a rope in a tug-of-war on the verge of snapping, is a major source of its power. Because In the Aeroplane Over the Sea is above all a portrayal of innocence, to love it is to imagine forces that want to extinguish it.