In today’s age of digital music with the likes of Apple Music and Spotify, most people don’t realize the amount of work that music scientists do every year. Whether it is verifying the authenticity of a cassette tape, digging into the archives of the library of congress, or discovering new genres to promote, music scientists are busy while the rest of just get to enjoy music for what it is. Now, in a recently published journal, some music scientists are claiming that Neutral Milk Hotel’s popular album In the Aeroplane Over the Sea was actually released 50 years earlier than previously thought. Rather than 1998, new documents suggest the original recording was done in 1948.
If you’ve ever listened to this album, this shouldn’t be that surprising. I mean, people have always said that it is timeless, but what they really meant was that it sounds like it could have been made at any point in the last 100 or so years. Although isn’t that what makes them a beloved band, that they transcend time? Plus, we never really know what that guy is saying, so things get lost in translation.
I remember the first time I heard this album. I was sitting in my room, searching through my sister’s iTunes account for new music. I saw the name Neutral Milk Hotel and thought it was a funny name, so I clicked on the first song I saw and gave it a listen. Over the course of the next six hours, I listened to the album on repeat until it became a part of me. I thought I was living in a truly unique and spectacular moment. This doesn’t have much to do with the story, other than showing my obvious bias.
The music scientist who first discovered the dating might be wrong had this to say. “Yeah, I had always listened to this album in my car when I was driving as a teenager. But then I remembered, I am 55 years old and I was growing up way before this had been released. I immediately went to my truck where I keep every CD I’ve ever owned, but when I went to find Aeroplane, it had turn to black soot. It was then that I realized something was not right with this album.”
Over the course of the next few months, this scientist and his team found every possible record, cassette, and CD copy of the album they could find and then began the painstaking process of looking them all over for signs of aging and decay. Instead, what they found appeared to be some sort of slip in time. One minute, they would be reading the lyrics written down in the CD’s cover, the next they would be celebrating the end of the war. Time was no longer linear. They looked through a mirror and saw the boys of Neutral Milk Hotel recording the song in a place outside of space, making it impossible to date accurately.
And so, the mystery continues and we are none the wiser.
This was written by Nathan Ellwood, who loves that Rugrats pre-dates this album. Follow him @NPEllwood.