A Journal Of The Dark Arts
Sounds Like: Ocean Waves, Footsteps Through Fallen Leaves, Falling, Flying, Falling In Love, Leaving, Starting, Staring, Writing.
Q: What to do, before enlightenment?
A: Chop Wood, Carry Water
Q: What to do, after enlightenment?
A: Chop Wood, Carry Water
Quickly forgetting was the way I lived my life
Try telling me your name or try telling me “don’t worry.”
Everything I knew would quickly wither and die
All echoes would be buried in the sound of living,The sound of feet slapping sidewalk
That was me – treasure hunting, I would bury what I found
That was me – the gold digger, underground
Quickly forgotten was this forgetful way of life
When I left home, when I lived as if I’d died
Sitting on a rock and doing nothing, alone for so long
In the dark I found my sight
There you name was, written large in letters bright!
And there my faith was!
“Worry not” declared the night
– Mount Eerie, Wooly Mammoth’s Mighty Absence
I’m not necessarily saying that Phil Elverum (and associates) are enlightened, per se, but there is a feeling of wisdom that is transmitted via this slight document, originally recorded and released for an Australian tour, in 2004. There is a feeling of retreat, of surrender in the lyrical conjuring of dark rocks, cold mountains. Mount Eerie is a place, a spectral landscape to get lost in, to wander and wonder, even if you are surrounded by concrete and asphalt.
Seven New Songs was the first release under the Mount Eerie moniker, jettisoning the success and momentum of The Microphones, that gained a bunch of fame and notoriety with the psych-indie-pop masterpiece, The Glow Pt. II (which has recently been re-released by P. W. Elverum & Sun, Ltd. as a 2LP and digital download as part of an ongoing Microphones re-issue campaign). The name change didn’t seem like a move towards willful obscurity; The Microphones had recorded a short album titled Mount Eerie, and Phil wanted to further elaborate on the concept, and it also tied his music to his hometown of Anacortes, Wa. Whatever the initial cause, its hard not to read it as some mystical transmogrification, a retreat from the egoic world of The Microphones, where everything he knew would quickly die. It was the sound of an individual retreating from the cellular cell of modern existentialism to someplace vast and permanent.
A few years ago, my brain blew up. Or it was more like someone flipped a light switch as i was walking home from a friend’s house. Trying to build a solid edifice of identity was getting me nowhere, and giving me nervous sweats and heart palpitations, to boot. The ironic thing was, the multi-hued coat i most desired to don was ‘musician’, and my whole life was geared around becoming that. Seeking inspiration, but not knowing what to do with it. I probably heard at least 1,000,000 albums between the ages of 18 – 27, and i’m hard pressed to name a song or hum 4 bars from any of them. This was partially due to maniacally scrambling to put together some false character, that died every 2 years or so, but in a larger sense, it is a microcosm of where society has been heading these last 10 years. I became less interested in trying to be something, and the creativity i had been so desperately seeking began to flourish. My favorite music became guided, extended meditations, as i sought to open myself to other perspectives, to allow myself to be worked over by whatever the fuck was in the air.
I was listening to a lot of Mount Eerie at the time, and chose Phil Elverum’s music as the banner i would fly over. Its dark mysticism, and psychogeographical underpinnings made it perfect for a burgeoning flaneur as myself, lots of long empty walks at 3 am, listening to Lost Wisdom and wondering what exactly in the hell i AM, anyway. Listening to Mount Eerie, the possibility of a ride to Washington, and an off the cuff bonding session with a fern in my backyard in Colorado was all it took to break me out of my rut in CO, and seek ultimate fulfillment, or at least to continue my search for myself.
Now, it’s two years later, and these changes have furthered, grown deeper, but are very much still a work in progress. Phil Elverum’s music, and a lot of his friends and allies in the Pacific Northwest, remind me to slow the fuck down, to go for a walk, to go explore. It is that attention, freedom and possibility that lights me up, these days, and what helped break the creative dam in my subconscious. Mount Eerie subverts the classic forms of folk and indie rock and breaks them down into cogwork components, to be utilized as needed. He understands the mood, (dare i say spirit), of multitudes of underground youth cultures, and uses the feelings to paint complex, personal, and interesting emotional journeys.
On Seven New Songs, Phil sticks mostly to the folk idiom, but embellishes upon the airy nylon-string guitar with brooding lead electric guitar (mostly uneffected, but close mic’ed, i’d wager), booming bass and stream-of-consciousness lyrics that sounds like a mixture of Thoreau, Rilke, and Varg Vikernes. It does not come right out and tell you what it is, instead lures you in and invites you to investigate, to look and think for yrself. This is the feeling i get from all of Phil Elverum’s artwork, solely striving to make the most accurate depiction of whatever swims behind his orbs. Its pure.
The album info claims this wasn’t a real release, limited to 196 CDrs in photocopied sleeves for a tour. ‘No big whoop,’ he says. But i’ve listened to these slight 7 missives hundreds of times, so the fact that this is ‘no big whoop’ makes me kind of want to dance and vomit, simultaneously. The man breathes creativity. American fans were paying exorbitant fees to get one of these rare gems, so to destroy the mystique (and the profiteers), he put it up for free on Archive.org (with the tag vomitcore), as well as for download at bandcamp. Its a superb summer record, great for warm night rambles. Go get lost.
This weekend, Mount Eerie will be playing in his hometown of Anacortes, as part of the Anacortes Unknown festival, which he and his partner Geneviève (O Paon) organize and run (formerly What The Heck Fest?).
All week we’ll be looking at artists either playing at AU, or part of their extended family. Stay posted.