There are few bands as beloved to me as Neutral Milk Hotel. In fact, I think only Elliott Smith surpasses my love for the Jeff Mangum fronted band and that's saying quite a lot because dang, I sure do love Elliott Smith.
I discovered Neutral Milk Hotel by pure luck. I frequented a record store down the street from my Detroit home, using my lunch money to buy albums instead of sustenance, and In The Aeroplane Over The Sea was recommended to me shortly after it's release. I was 12. It was a revelatory moment in my life. From the iconic title track to the "Holy shit!" exclamation at the end of "Oh, Comely", I knew at the time that everything was changing for me, that I'd just stumbled upon something that was going to be very important in my musical existence.
It's sort of criminal now to be an "indie kid" and not worship at the elusive feet of Mangum which warms my heart to no end. Aeroplane was a record that impacted my life so intensely and to know that other people feel the same about it makes me happy. When you meet other people who love Neutral Milk Hotel, you feel an instant connection with them, as if you're both in on a secret that's glorious and wonderful and sharing that connection with someone, even if it's just for one conversation, even if it's just in passing, is a pretty cool thing.
Since Neutral Milk Hotel is so beloved these days, it's no shock that indie musicians far and wide are covering the band. I've always wanted to compile a mix of Aeroplane, covered track for track, but sadly, covers of songs like "Ghost" and "Communist Daughter" are tricky to come by.
What's not hard to come by, however, is various renditions of title track "In The Aeroplane Over The Sea". A quick search on youtube will not only expose you to hundreds of "kids with a macbook and a guitar" covers of the tune but also more than a few legit artist's take on the seminal classic.
The sugar voiced siblings in Eisley covered "Aeroplane" a few years back on a British radio show and the recording's made the rounds on the internet since then. There's few things the Dupree sisters sweet harmonies aren't suited for and Neutral Milk Hotel covers are no exception. Whereas Mangum's voice grated and shocked in the most revelatory of ways, Sherri and Stacy Dupree, who trade on vocal duty here, seduce you in the least sexual way possible. I mean, let's face it, girls as cute as the Eisley brigade are adorable, they're gorgeous, they're beautiful, but I just can't see them as sexy. It makes me feel like a total molester thinking sexy thoughts about the Eisley gals (Except for maybe that Chauntelle... A-WINK!). Part of that might be due to the fact that I'm a straight female but regardless, the point at hand is the fact that Eisley are seductive, yet not sexy. That's not a bad thing! The fact is that their voices are sort of like hot cider with a shot of whiskey in it. It's saccharine and wonderful and envelops you with it's warmth and then, oh! It has a little kick too that keeps the warmth in you for just a while longer!
Their cover of "In The Aeroplane Over The Sea" is no exception. The Dupree siblings sweeten up the original without making the song into an overly-charming mess, adding a few particularly lovely "Oohs" here and there. Never does Eisley's version of "Aeroplane" sound more beautiful, however, then during the bridge. It's no secret that I love evocative music and hearing Stacy's syrupy voice sing the words I've come to adore so much during my adolescence and (now) adulthood reminds me of all the times I listened to Mangum's original version of this song, so many times over so many years. And memories like that are one of the most beautiful things about music.
Even though Eisley's cover of "Aeroplane" is superb, I have to say that out of every version I've ever heard (excluding the original), Fanfarlo's version takes the top notch in my heart. I know why that is. It's all because of Simon Balthazar's voice. Sure, the music's lovely but Balthazar has been melting my heart into a gooey pile of blood and viscera with his crooning since stumbling across Fanfarlo some time back. Balthazar's vocals remind me of those of Shearwater's Jonathan Meiburg in the sense that those voices are the best instruments in both bands. Just like Eisley's version of the song, Fanfarlo's version of the track makes me think of that time I was driving my college crush, my best friend at the time, home and "Aeroplane" came on my iPod's shuffle. I asked him if he'd heard it, getting the same manic excitement I get whenever Neutral Milk Hotel is brought up. He hadn't. I pulled the car over on the side of the dirt road near his rural home and we sat there, watching the sun set in our autumn jackets, listening to Mangum sing about how strange it is to be anything at all.
The boy didn't like me, of course, as is usually the case with boys with whom I'm good pals (a.k.a. "one of the guys" - Curse you, friend zone, for cock blocking me many-a-time!). In fact, we never so much as kissed. I was hung up on the fella for years afterwards but sometime three or four years back, I finally gave up the ghost. I didn't need to hang on to unrequited love any more but I'll always have Neutral Milk Hotel and their loyal worshippers to remind me of that feeling of fresh faced optimism and the kind of passion that makes you pull over an unheated car in the dregs of Michigan's chilly fall because a song is just that good.