ALBUM REVIEW: Mount Eerie – Clear Moon

Written for the 405

Washington’s Phil Elverum sheds musical skins at a rapid rate. From the dissolution of the Microphones (the nom de plume with which he courted as much fame as a K Records alumnus can) a couple of years ago, to the creation of Mount Eerie, Elverum’s new project, which itself has flitted between the Microphones’ lo-fi folk thrash to the likes of Wind’s Poem, ostensibly inspired by Norwegian death metal.

There is one noticeable similarity in everything Elverum’s done: each record is notable for its lo-fidelity and high concepts, tracks linked as much by the hiss of the recording as there lofty themes.

On Clear Moon, Elverum has a concept higher than ever before. It’s “part one of a pair of records exploring a living place as a modern questioning person, walking around and looking at things for 80 or so years before disbanding back into dirt” (I know, right?). And the production quality has been heightened too, actually.

For those completely lost by those first couple of paragraphs: Mount Eerie is the latest musical project of one Phil Elverum, who tackles BIG subjects in his songwriting, but grounds them in the personal feel of the recording. His vocals almost always take the form of hushed tones, sometimes to the point of being lost in the more busy arrangements (like on “The Place Lives” here, which sounds like it was recorded on a wind-swept moor, or “Lone Bell” which sounds like some sort of nightmareish vaudeville music).

You can hear every guitar string that’s struck in a chord, and the buzz of those accidentally muted; the crashing drums sound distorted in the way the do in person, the volume sending your auditory receptors into the red.

Clear Moon, like Elverum’s previous, is very focused on its subject matter. But, even more so than before, it’s focused on atmosphere – not that previous albums were lacking in atmosphere – reaching a head on “The Place I Live”, an (excuse the pun) eerie, Wicker Man-esque track built around a rumbling, building sound that might be a treated organ or might be a group of chanting Grigorian monks.

So you’ve probably got by now that Clear Moon isn’t for everyone (I mentioned Grigorian monks just now for God’s sake). More than anything he’s done previously, Elverum’s latest requires patience. Sitting and actually listening to the thing, giving it your fully attention – is that something people still do? – is an immensely rewarding experience. Otherwise, its gentleness might pass by unnoticed if you have it on in the background.

Clear Moon is yet another immensely accomplished record by any immensely accomplished musician. Even if it might not get him into the Top 40. Not that Elverum would notice; he’s busy on some mountaintop somewhere, pondering the sequel to this album.

8/10

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