Styles: a whisper atop a tempest
Others: The Microphones, Eric’s Trip
From The Microphones to Mount Eerie, singer/songwriter/label owner Phil Elverum has always stood out by dint of the care he puts into his every project. Whether it be his live shows -- where spontaneity is almost recklessly responsible for the outcome -- or his delicately packaged LPs and books and LP/book combos, the micro-indie troubadour manages to convey a rare sense of purpose.
This purpose comes through in his interviews and other works, but most of all through his music. It’s always been so mysterious, so rewarding (but in a gradual way); Elverum never sells his listeners short, giving them the chance to be in on his little secrets if they can muster the patience to stick around for the long haul. His deliberate patience-testing and long-form art cycles can be difficult to muster the strength for, yet those who have stayed hypnotized show no signs of waking up to this day. Mount Eerie’s albums do what indie-rock albums are supposed to do: repel the majority and fascinate the minority.
A recent fascination with black metal could change that, however. Wind’s Poem, Elverum’s third official album as Mount Eerie, has the naked rock/metal signposts (in other words, it betrays a rare outside influence) that a lot of Mount Eerie compositions have lacked; whether this is a positive or negative trend is in the eyes of the beholder, but to me these new elements constitute a whole new appeal for E-rum. This is the Lay Listener’s best chance yet to truly lock on and in to the Mount Eerie fold, and if you’ve been waiting for the rest of the world to catch on to one of the most idiosyncratic musicians/performers around, you’ll greet Wind’s Poem as welcome progress.
Of course, I must address the black-metal rumblings in regard to Mount Eerie (which he was already playing down at the time of his recent Believer interview; I’m guessing he’s been asked about Mayhem way too much). Now, it could be observed that mixing in elements of black metal isn’t the most original undertaking at this point in time -- it could even be labeled as an Obvious Move, really, considering how b-metal’s popularity has surged -- but the context E puts the artform in is wholly unique. He isn’t bashing away on blast-beats or importing other stereotypical trappings into his lair. Elverum instead wields hints of black-metal’s ominous lore and sprinkles it subtly over arrangements that are as Microphones as he’s ever been. He doesn’t so much convert as integrate, never overpowering his existing style.
Rather than artificially belch out something he’s been ingesting, Elverum has been inspired by an artform (and, truth be told, he’s said the imagery of black-metal is as influential to him as the music itself anyway) and is leaving us clues as to why. Once you get past a thrilling dark-earth intro with “Wind’s Dark Poem,” which is the most nakedly metal moment (along with the maniacal gutter-drone of “The Mouth of Sky” and Godzilla-baiting “Lost Wisdom Pt. 2”), what you get are the little touches: A caked-in-grey-black, menacing flourish here, a whirlwind of noise there... little reminders that, though this is still Elverum’s voice and Elverum’s Voice, it’s being channeled through a slightly different apparatus. (I would encourage those interested to consult Black Wooden Ceiling Opening, too. It’s more of a dramatic nod to the black-metal overlords and suffers little for its more-overt influences.)
Mount Eerie’s status as a challenging -- to the point of near-impenetrability -- artist won’t change. Sure, “Wind’s Dark Poem” blasts your teeth off in a neat-and-tidy four minutes, but the Twin Peaks-inspired “Through the Trees” snakes through the woods for ELEVEN GODDAMN-BEAUTIFUL MINUTES, minutes Elverum has said are specifically designed to be an obstacle. If you don’t have the patience to trudge around in its minimalist soft-sludge backing, I understand; I feel sorry for you, but I understand.
Another piece of the Elverum puzzle still firmly in place is his emphasis on and connection with nature. A true child of the Pacific Northwest -- where preserving the Great Outdoors is viewed as more than a hollow, unattainable goal -- Elverum’s songs often splay across tape like a long stay in a remote cabin. If he does clutter his landscapes, it comes off more like a temporary storm than a sustained gail, a cycle of the seasons and nothing more.
More than anything though, E believes firmly in the power of the bare, intimately delivered human voice. His calm-but-often-pleading ruminations are among the centerpieces here, and it resounds in the deep no matter how chaotic and constantly shifting the compositions get. A lot of bands would be happy with the instrumentals of Wind’s Poem alone, but it would be a travesty to subtract the vocals, bare, sincere, and quotable as they are.
Don’t sleep on Elverum’s ability to surprise you, either. “Between Two Mysteries,” which this time overtly appropriates one of the main melodic themes of Twin Peaks, delivers a quiet, proggy ambiance that will calm your head after the avalanche of kitchen-sink blotch-metal masterpiece “Mouth of Sky.” You could build Wind’s Poem around a tune like “Mysteries” and come out with a completely different album, and that’s why it works -- it keeps the song cycle from growing stale by injecting fresh life and drops of color to contrast the dark moods with.
“Ancient Questions” also cinches off the squall for more delicate picking and singing, but you can tell something’s gotta give; sure enough, “Lost Wisdom Pt. 2” palms the relay scroll handed to it by “Ancient Questions,” starts it on fire, then stomps on the ashes, after which a drone sounds while the ashes slowly get carried away by the wind. The drone then builds steam and crashes to the ground again, this time more gradually and softly. Elverum is watching it all go down from atop a fiery mountain peak, singing, “I know the world is a flaming house/ And I will be... I will be grieving.”
This is where mountains are moved. As invigorating as the first half of Wind’s Poem is, its second half is where a filmic sensibility arises and the music becomes at one with the listener, the sounds yielding way to both chaotic and calming images as waves crash and subside. If you’re looking for an argument for the full-length album, Wind’s Poem is a slam-shut case; anyone who would be foolish enough to listen to these tracks out of sequence would miss the point completely. Listening, then, is as stimulating as watching a movie and as rewarding upon completion as finishing an epic novel.
1. Wind's Dark Poem
2. Through the Trees
3. My Heart Is Not at Peace
4. The Hidden Stone
5. Wind Speaks
7. The Mouth of Sky
8. Between Two Mysteries
9. Ancient Questions
11. Lost Wisdom Pt. 2
12. Stone's Ode