Mount Eerie: Clear Moon / Ocean Roar (P.W. Elverum & Sun)
Cath Aubergine introduces us to two albums by the prolific experimental folk artist Mount Eerie, both of which were released in 2012 & both of which evaded much press attention then. Here’s Cath’s review of “two that got away”, Clear Moon & Ocean Roar.
IÂ wasn’t going to do any end of year stuff this year. Well, last year, as it is now. 2012. The year even half the people who make the lists generally seemed to agree there were too many lists. There were a lot of albums I liked in those lists, plenty I’d bought in a year where I probably bought more new albums than I ever have previously. Few, however, mentioned the albums which together sat at the top of the list in my head. It’s not like they were musically impenetrable, nor the work of an unknown artist. They were kind of hard to get hold of, but in these days where you can generally own any tune you like electronically in a matter of seconds or physically by 9am tomorrow on the premium delivery option, there was something rather nostalgic about the long wait. Anticipation. And it did not go unrewarded…
They made their way across the sea, six months apart, packaged like gifts from afar. Each box addressed by hand and bound with patterned tape bearing the name of the organisation from which they had originated: P.W.ELVERUM & SUN, LTD. ANACORTES . I looked it up on a map, and things started to make sense. Up there at the western end of the border between Washington State and Canada the coastline dissolves into a scatter of islands and outcrops; the small city of Anacortes is bounded on three sides by water, at the head of a strait that separates the two countries as they reach out into the North Pacific Ocean. It covers the northern third or so of Fidalgo Island where the oceanic crust lifts above sea level; a couple of miles south lies a mountain whose unique geological composition tells stories of uplift and submersion and glacial erosion. Its name is Mount Erie.
This year more than any before I have found fascination in coastlines, the fractal forms and geology and history on the edges of continents; the rift at Ãingvellir in Iceland where the North American and Eurasian continental plates meet blew my mind as much as any of the music I heard out there. Sometimes you can hear the landscape in the music; from sea-blasted folk laments to ambient echoes, dreampop atmospheres to the distant rolling thunder of black metal. And there, on the other side of the world, the other side of that continental plate, those same sounds permeate the work of Phil Elverum.
I’ll admit I’m a latecomer here; 2009’s “Wind’s Poem” was his fourth album under the Mount Eerie name (having previously recorded as Microphones, doing the sort of college radio lo-fi meets Beach Boys pop thatâs perenially popular with twentysomethings in shapeless jumpers) and even that was six months old by the time he brought its live performance to Manchester’s Ruby Lounge, and the cast-iron reliability of anything booked by local experimental music promoter Wotgodforgot took me there. It rushed from the speakers like the gathering storm, Elverum’s fragile voice sometimes lost in the sound, sometimes rising above. 2012’s twin albums (available, initially at least, only on vinyl and only from the old curiosity-shop built by Elverum’s imagination around his very real if rather less romantic mail-order business) appeared to continue the theme.
Wind, sky, water. The moon pulls those tides; the wind batters the coast; it’s all connected.
Loosely speaking, “Clear Moon” is the lighter of the two, though mortality is never far away and Allyson Foster’s guest vocals on “Through the Trees Pt. 2” seem to be coming from somewhere beyond that. This is not the easy listen it first pretends to be; the oft-cited black metal influence which permeated every noise on “Wind’s Poem” (in some senses an album equivalent of The Blair Witch Project, right down to the fact that you couldn’t really do it again) is here more of a threat than an overwhelming presence – though in some ways that’s more unsettling. Songs which could, in other hands, have been delicate and decent enough examples of backwoods folk with a psychedelic tinge are surrounded here by shadows and deep underlying menace. Lyrically there’s a fair amount of existentialism, though don’t be expecting lengthy wordy theses: often Elverum’s words feel more like a contents page, a list of general thoughts and themes as opposed to being overly specific It’s standard practice when writing about music with vocals to pull out a killer line or two, but it doesn’t feel right here: in a sense this is actually one long piece of largely blank verse.
In “Clear Moon” the theme centres around home and what that means: the twin titles of “The Place Lives” and its immediate successor “The Place I Live” say so much more than the few words that comprise them, whilst “Ocean Roar” is a walk outside in the dead of night. Elverum described his second album of 2012Â as “more challenging and weird and darker and heavier” – which it undoubtedly is – but again, if one considers them the remaining two thirds of a triptych then it’s a reminder that the weather may calm down for a while, but only ever for a while. There’s much more of a classic avant-psyche influence here; in the cover of Popol Vuh‘s “Engel Der Luft”; in the driving rhythms that surface from time to time; and in the untethered imagination which feels no need for easy genre labels. Fans of densely layered shoegaze may find something to love here, as might connoisseurs of the drawn-out doom of Earth (as support for whom Elverum played his only UK dates of the year) or anyone who thinks some of these sensitive girlfriend-left-me-so-I-retreated-to-a-cabin-in-the-woods types would benefit from listening to Sunn O))) at extreme volume.
Throughout, each layer of sound travels and echoes between the speakers, immersing you in something of the fog which crops up repeatedly in the words. Sometimes it’s like the very music itself is being buffeted around in the weather, Elverum’s voice half-heard against the wind that’s building up again. I wonder if my own affinity with these albums has been influenced not just by those experiences of travels but by the relentless rain that’s lashed our own little island this past year. I’m guessing Anacortes gets its fair share of that, too.
These are not albums to be shoved on repeat, and especially not on shuffle. They are not background. You can use them as backgrounds, sure, and in that context you’ll get a couple of decent ones, although Elverum’s wonderful disdain for the modern fashion of overcompression means you may have some rather quiet spells. Listening, however, is richly rewarded; close your eyes and take a night walk around a small city on the edge of a continent, bounded by water, fog, wind, a mountain, moonlight and the inky blackness beyond.
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For physical copies of the albums and all manner of other strange delights, visit http://www.pwelverumandsun.com/Â . Phil Elverum also has a brilliantly odd Twitter feed at @PWElverum . All words by Cath Aubergine, more writing by Cath on Louder Than War can be found here.