Sunday, 10 June 2012

Mount Eerie - Clear Moon

Clear Moon is in equal parts dark and beautiful. To strike such a balance is not easy; few records convey such genuine emotion. Dark music is easily spewed out for fad (see ‘witch house’) or for television soundtracks (the xx, Glasvegas) and what may have once been genuine personal emotion is easily bastardised for the everyman. Phil Elverum – his fragile voice and his exceptional production – avoids this, singing about “the natural world and whatever else it’s called”, as he puts it himself on the heartbreakingly beautiful ‘Through the Trees Pt.2’. His timid voice is the source of such honesty and throughout provides a contrast to the music that supports it; buried deep in the mix, it is not obscured but in fact used to draw the listener deeper into the music. In many ways, his voice matches what he sings and – if you like – who he is. We are given a minute’s introduction before Elverum sighs the albums first words: “misunderstood and disillusioned” - a pair that fittingly describe the tone is voice portrays.

The dark duo of songs that follow this, ‘The Place Lives’ and ‘The Place I Live’, are naturally grouped (it’s in the names) yet also provide contrast between both themselves and the opening track. ‘The Place Lives’ is a collision of hocketing acoustic guitars – similarly produced to its predecessor, but with greatly varied effects – but also of Elverum’s interests in both doom metal and acoustic music. ‘The Place I Live’, however, is more reserved. A dark drone supports the beautifully duelling (well, interplaying) harmonies of Allyson Foster, while Elverum sings of nature (“rocks and water and wood”, “in a sea of fog”).

It may be said that there isn’t much difference between the Mount Eerie project and Elverum’s highly acclaimed The Microphones, because in fact, there isn’t. Elverum released an album named Mount Eerie under The Microphones moniker, before settling with Mount Eerie for good, claiming “The Microphones was completed... I’m new”. And whilst Clear Moon is dark and intimate throughout, much like his work as The Microphones, it remains distinctive; there is variation, it is just that this variation sticks to Elverum’s known formula. ‘Lone Bell’, which references back to the non-album single ‘Distorted Cymbals’, introduces a rapid and heavily processed drum kit and, more conspicuously, a brass arrangement. ‘House Shape’ for a moment recalls In Rainbows era Radiohead, and the title track even uses auto-tune.

His own formula, his own rules, can however cause problems for the less familiar listener: Elverum will often cut songs short, or, on the contrary, drag songs on for a long time (see ‘The Place Lives’ and ‘Clear Moon’). This adds to the intrigue in his work, yet it could arguably disengage the relationship between the listener and the musician, and whilst his music also comes across as very personal, it could then be said to be rather self-centred. We are drawn into the music, yet we are also given the impression that Elverum does it for himself, in his own world. Living and recording in the sparsely populated area of Anacortes, Washington, Elverum lives his music. His fascination with nature comes down to his surroundings, and the same may be said about the darkness of his music. It may come across as one, but musically, this is not a criticism. In fact, relating to the earlier point of honesty and emotion, these factors are what make his music more genuine. These are what make the music feel as though it has come directly from Elverum’s heart, or the heart of nature; Clear Moon is a startlingly real practise in what Elverum knows best.


William Hall

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