WHAT A CURIOUS LIFE…
- Neutral Milk Hotel – In the Aeroplane over the Sea |
- Released: 1998 Merge |
- Produced: Robert Schneider |
- Genre: Freely creative freak-folk ballads to Anne Frank |
CAN’T BELIEVE /
HOW STRANGE IT IS TO BE ANYTHING AT ALL…
If you came here looking for an historical account of this classic record – the indie darling of all indie darlings – I’m afraid you’re in the wrong place. The internet is brimming over with hagiographies of In the Aeroplane over the Sea, and I have no new findings or hot takes to add.
If you’re not familiar with the record, all you need to know for now is that it’s a strange and beautiful folk-pop album with enigmatic, stream of consciousness lyrics that are sometimes whispered, sometimes howled. Depending on who you ask, the album is either partially inspired by, or utterly devoted to Anne Frank (a Jewish child who died in Bergen-Belsen concentration camp during WWII). If you’ve never heard it before, I highly recommend giving it a listen. It’s gloriously weird.
But I’m not here to delve deep into the lyrics or present half-baked theories. Not this week, anyway.
Instead, I want to talk a little about weirdness.
What it is, and why it’s so important for creativity.
And I really want to talk about this book:
Now Try Something Weirder by Michael Johnson of the creative agency/brand consultancy Johnson Banks is a primer on creativity. The 233 pieces of advice within (and without) the pages are varied, but are all centred around a single idea: why not try something weirder.
So what do we mean when we say ‘creativity’?
Creativity is, of course, linked to creation; making something that did not exist before. Making something new.
And by definition, new is always weird. New is different from the norm. New is challenging. New goes into uncharted territory and comes back with arms full of ideas and curios.
To be creative, you have to do something new. You have to try something weird.
And In the Aeroplane over the Sea is certainly weird.
Whether in its instrumentation, where guitars and drums are accompanied by theremin, musical saw, bagpipes, and flugelhorn. Or in its howling, nasal vocal delivery. Or in the kaleidoscopic dream logic of its lyrics. There’s a childishness to it, a playfulness. Pop songs that you have to work to uncover from under all the lo-fi fuzz.
But it sounds like nothing else.
It sounds new.
It sounds weird.
Now try something weirder.
- Everything Is… – Neutral Milk Hotel
- Some Weird Sin – Iggy Pop
- Be Brave – The Strange Boys
- Strange – Galaxie 500
- Strange Victory, Strange Defeat – Silver Jews
- Ethio Invention No 1 – Andrew Bird
- That’s Us/Wild Combination
- Weird Honey – Elvis Depressedly
- Rough Gem – Islands
- Dustin Hoffman’s Wife Makes a Sarcastic Remark, Cuts the Head Off a Duck, Places it where the Tub Was and Begins to Growl – Of Montreal
- Give Your Light Off – Woods
- Designer – Aldous Harding
- Painter in Your Pocket – Destroyer
- Stop Me if You Think You’ve Heard this One Before – The Smiths
- Stranger than Kindness – Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
- Weird Era – Deerhunter
- Is She Weird? – Pixies
- Creation – El Michels Affair
- Words to my Song – Dry Bread
- Dream Baby Dream – Suicide
- Sea Ghost – The Unicorns
- Interesting Results – Ariel Pink
- Actin’ Weird – Frankie Cosmos
- My Guitar Wants to Kill Your Mama – Frank Zappa & The Mothers of Invention
- Tears in the Typing Pool – Broadcast
- Freak Scene – Dinosaur Jr.