The Microphones Mount Eerie

[K; 2003]

Styles: experimental rock, indie rock, singer/songwriter
Others: Mount Eerie, Little Wings, Wolf Colonel, Mirah, K Records

Phil Elvrum ain't exactly a model citizen. Not in the sense that he's violent or destructive, but in that Elvrum only does what he wants done and lets what he wants happen. From afar, the idea doesn't seem very far-fetched; but with the exhausting stranglehold of media and the ambiguity caused by moral ideologies (projected further by corrupt political spheres), free-will and individuality has languished, taking a backseat to the all-encompassing "hard cash." So when an artist comes along and assimilates particular conventions with an existential mindset, we music lovers hold on to dear life.

Stripping off the folk mane and assuming the role of a composer on his latest birth Mount Eerie, Elvrum, once again, provides an everlasting sonic journey that we'll never want to let go. Up until now, Elvrum has consistently produced folk/pop songs with an eye on experimentation. Considering the experi-mentality of past efforts, it really isn't surprising that Mount Eerie, The Microphones' fourth standard album, not only continues toying with timbre and recording techniques, but also with structure. On these five lengthy tracks, Elvrum pushes pop conventions off the table and takes a juicy shit on them, just to see what it'd sound like-- and it works wonderfully.

Opting for more instrumental sections and joint songwriting with his K cronies, Mount Eerie is a step forward in terms of originality and transcendence. Don't expect songs like "Headless Horseman" or "You'll be in the Air", but rather a continuous balancing act of rhythmic and arrhythmic interludes tied together with miles of melodious yarn. Similar to a live Microphones show, the musicians seem unaware of what's in store for the song but just sort of sing and play along with the seemingly half-improvised music to the best of their prophetic powers, suitably adding an aleatoric element to the music.

As usual, the lyrics are drop-dead beautiful. Continuing the themes left off from the last few predecessors, the narrative lyrics traces a tale of a man in nature, attuning his senses to his own self-reflection: "Let the flash flood begin/ Wash me down the canyon/ Quicksand pull me in/ Blow over me solar wind," sings Elvrum on "Solar System." He continues the story on "The Universe" (which shares the same song title with the album closer): "See me unveiled as I walk out of the canyon/ See me start to climb at the end of day/ But who's there to see me walk out?/ There's not beacon, no sun to block out/ No bird ablaze/ A close dark voice says, 'Do you really think there's anybody out there?'"

Heavily influenced by the harmonious choral arrangements on Bjork's Vespertine, Elvrum cranks up the grandiose-meter and hits the "bombast button" with sumptuous, layered crooning thinned across the album's length, reverting back to a style similar to that on "The Glow" (see It Was Hot, We Stayed in the Water). What's most interesting about Elvrum's pomp-factor is that these bombastic ideas are characterized by their own refusal to partake in the actual bombast. The big ideas are downplayed by the minor faults and mistakes that saturate the album, a quasi-cataclysmic production with the simplest of means.

Whereas competitor songwriters re-record any mistakes, big or small, Elvrum leaves them as is, big or small. These supposed mistakes begs us to rethink our conventions on what we consider "wrong." If anything, each mistake is a truer sign of the songwriter's intention; the songwriter who endlessly retries a riff to near perfection is not only kidding us, but himself, masking the lack of musical ability with a glossy coat. I'm sure if Elvrum took the time, he could redo everything to "perfection," but each corrected mistake is a fault on itself, exposing the insecurity issues and pseduo-perfection so common among artists.

Even though Elvrum isn't able to consistently hit the originally desired note, it really doesn't matter. Virtuosity is overrated. So what if Elvrum wasn't born with a 20-octave vocal range? Each mutter and each tonal-descending falsetto proves that the Elvrum on record is the same Elvrum in reality. And in a world where discerning between synthetic and reality is becoming tougher, it's nice to know that Elvrum is lucid on both sides.

1. The Sun
2. Solar System
3. The Universe
4. Mt. Eerie
5. The Universe