Mount Eerie Song Islands vol. 2

[P.W. Elverum & Sun; 2010]

Rating: 3/5

Styles: fuzz-folk, lo-fi
Others: The Microphones, Thanksgiving, Karl Blau, Eric’s Trip

“Get off the Internet,” intones Phil Elverum on his 2007 7-inch Two Songs, with cadences that ape a certain horrific charity single. “Shut up about music.” Okay, Phil. You got me. I’m an internet mudmonster man growing more affectless and depressed with every moment spent lolling laptop-bellied in bed. My room’s getting grody. I should probably clear out my fridge. But shouldn’t you be off feeling shapes or something? What became of your flaming pumpkin head?

Elverum’s circuitous progression as a musician has typically reached its apogee when he successfully balances the inscrutable and the direct. His vocal delivery, impassive yet somehow desperate, grips you Ancient Mariner-like. His lyrics are as concrete and specific as they are often opaque. The same cobwebby thrummed folk base supports any number of noisy excursions. Yet on Elverum’s most focused works, like the still-fresh The Glow Pt. 2, these protean shifts in sound still feed into a cohesive whole and maintain a hazy flow. Song Islands vol. 2, a musty shambles of a post-Microphones rarities compendium, finds this balance thrown off-kilter in practically every way imaginable.

It’s unreasonable to expect a compilation to hang together like a proper album, but without that broader context, these already rudderless tracks have a tendency to drift off entirely. The songs here, culled from eight years of output, present stylistic contrasts even starker than on any previous Microphones/Mount Eerie release: the almost Sacred Harp-sounding reduction of “Voice In Headphones” off 2008’s Lost Wisdom sits all too close to the baffling sax-supplied R&B of “Mystery Language.” Yet there are few sounds here that we haven’t heard out of Elverum before. The rippling steel drums of “Cold Mountain” harken back to “The Gleam, Part 2,” and the sludgy psych-out of “You Turn Me On” doesn’t differ so much from “I Want to Be Cold” off The Glow Pt. 2.

The only order I can ascertain in the sequencing consists of small groupings of thematically connected songs. For example, “O My Heart” (also an alternate of a Lost Wisdom entry) becomes far more significant when cast as the conclusion to Moby Dick tale “I Whale.” The aforementioned “Get Off the Internet” and its partner “Don’t Smoke,” in themselves some of Elverum’s weakest songs, benefit enormously from their pairing with “Cooking,” which warps a similarly preachy admonition to young folks unable to prepare their own food into an exploration of modern man’s disconnect from the dark wilderness that made him.

“Where Is My Tarp?,” the oldest song in the collection (dating back to 2002), is also its most striking one and overshadows practically everything around it. The most commendable traits of everything Microphones/Mount Eerie appear in full force here: the compellingly mutable arrangement, the skewed production, the skewed modulations of the voice, the doltishly poetic lyrics. A lorn horn section brings us in with a touch of Theremin before collapsing onto a mossy bed of low-end feedback. Elverum’s breathy vocals emerge from the leaf mold, tilting and squeaking as always, meeting bright guitars and easy, skipping skins eventually subsumed by a sung drone that slowly shifts out of harmony. The way he croaks “You squirm and coo/ I’m petting you” and compares himself to “a birch canoe” and a “migrating moose/ On prairie loose” makes what could be horribly twee or slightly creepy oddly touching.

Song Islands vol. 2 rarely gives us the time to fully enter Elverum’s sonic wickiup before shooting off unbidden into the furthest stylistic reaches of his discography. It ably displays the breadth of his oeuvre but not the depth, leaving the listener with snippets of verbiage — “everybody will eat you,” “tonight you will be taken in dark arms” — and a variety of sounds — the USBM-approximating howl of “(wind lyrics),” the stereo-panned patter of “Give Totally Up — which, taken together, say very little but remain endlessly intriguing.

Links: Mount Eerie - P.W. Elverum & Sun

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