In the Aeroplane Over the Sea was released on February 10, 1998. Merge pressed 5,500 CD and 1,600 vinyl copies, and expected sales to be similar to On Avery Island. These initial projections were correct, as the album sold moderately well for the first few months. Critical responses to In the Aeroplane Over the Sea were mostly positive, but not laudatory. Rob Brunner of Entertainment Weekly praised the unique instrumentation and "bouncy pop melodies", but described some of the acoustic songs as "lifeless acoustic warblers. " Pitchfork's M. Christian McDermott also commended the music, which he called a blend of "Sgt. Pepper with early 90s lo-fi" that he found "as catchy as it is frightening. " A more negative review came from Ben Ratliff of Rolling Stone, who felt the heavy layer of distortion masked the absence of decent melodies. CMJ New Music Monthly ranked In the Aeroplane Over the Sea as the number one album of 1998, and it placed fifteenth in the Pazz & Jop poll for 1998.