4. Neutral Milk Hotel - In the Aeroplane Over the Sea
There are very few albums that resist categorization quite so effortlessly as In the Aeroplane Over the Sea. For forty staggering minutes, Jeff Mangum short-circuits all conventional modes of expression, forging a private language that is endlessly intriguing and haunting in the truest sense of the word. Mangum sings as if possessed, painfully conveying fractured and moving tales with the imagistic skill of a brilliant novelist. He gnashes his teeth at the fabric of time, then wraps himself in it like a blanket, channeling the violence of his personal past through a claustrophobic frustration with his dejected present. His band, whose contributions to Aeroplaneremain criminally underappreciated, elevate Mangum's songs from chilling sketches into vibrant opuses, fully realizing the antique otherworldliness of Mangum's storytelling.
Opening with the achingly gorgeous nostalgia of "The King of Carrot Flowers Pt. 1", Aeroplane immediately plays upon a potent conflation of cultural and personal past. The world of Aeroplane is haunted by Anne Frank-- the specter of childhood's unimpeachable innocence amidst the unfathomable horror of the holocaust. In the feverish "Oh Comely", Mangum longs to save her in "some sort of time machine." By "Two-Headed Boy Pt. 2", the album's indelible and heartbreaking closing track, he seems to have resigned himself to loving a ghost, singing with a thoroughly unnerving blend of heartbreak and exhaustion: "In my dreams you're alive, and you're crying/ As your mouth moves in mine, soft and sweet." The way people have been affected by Aeroplane is ample proof of its power and uniqueness. Like all classic art, it is widely misunderstood; yet to some, In the Aeroplane Over the Sea has become a riddle the likes of The Wasteland-- an impossibly rich text that begs to be deciphered, yet continually evades any singular interpretation. --Matt LeMay / Pitchfork.com