Playing Pretend with Microphones, Mountains, and Death

Posted October 14th, 2008 by Eric Greenwood · No Comments

Phil Elverum is a recorder of unorthodox sounds. An analog archivist. A singer of strange, dark, and heart-wrenchingly beautiful songs about the simplest fundamentals: water, air, space, mountains. He hails from the boondocks of the upper Northwest in a small town called Anacortes in Washington State, the population of which is less than 15,000. He’s worked as an engineer on music by underground DIY legends Beat Happening. His nom de plumes morph enough to seem transient, but you’ll likely recognize The Microphones or Mount Eerie. Then again, you might not. Elverum is an odd bird.

His latest artistic and slightly musical endeavor is a 132-page tome packed with full-color photographs of vast and foreboding landscapes, which serve as a quasi-literal visual accompaniment to all of his music over the years. A 10” vinyl picture disc is also a part of the over-sized coffee table book, which purports to be the musical sequel to The Microphones’ monumental Mount Eerie album from 2003 on K Records. It carries with it a hefty price tag, which may send much of Elverum’s loyal fanbase into shock, but its production was a meticulous and labored process, sparing no expense to incorporate the smallest carbon footprint possible. The environmental statistics are idiosyncratically detailed on Elverum’s website: “it was printed on 10,000 lbs. of FSC certified 50% recycled, 35% post-consumer ‘Endeavor’ paper (‘savings’- 20 full grown trees, 60 lbs of water-borne waste, 9000 lbs solid waste, 1000 gallons of water, 1900 lbs of greenhouse gases, 14870 (000) BTU’s of energy).”

So, for killing a lot of trees, Elverum has done his damndest to minimize the lasting damage. And, likewise, his music shows an equally sympathetic conscientiousness. 2001’s The Glow, Pt. 2 has been hailed as his masterpiece. It’s a dramatic, sweeping, cinematic discourse on life and death in the face of the impenetrable vastness of nature. But the way in which it was recorded is almost as important as the music itself. The impact of listening to The Glow, Pt. 2 on headphones is staggering. In an age where technology has ironically curbed the appreciation of sound quality through computer transmogrification, The Glow, Pt. 2 relishes its own breathtaking and ingenious primitivism.

Elverum is a masterful sound manipulator, and his skill is nuanced and precise. Though his songs tend to swell into epic collages of sound, his attention to detail carefully controls the impact of each small part as it builds and unfurls. The follow-up, Mount Eerie, is an experimental epic from beginning to end. His lyrics plumb the blows of death and the anti-climactic aftermath: “Soon a big black cloud will come/And press you to the ground/The air will leave your chest/And you’ll fade from where you’re found.”

Since adopting Mount Eerie as his moniker, Elverum’s output has sped up. He released two albums within two months of each other in 2005, No Flashlight and Singers, only to harken back to the Microphones appellation last year for a 7”. Since the last Microphones full-length for K, Elverum has been putting out his own records and those of his friends on the PW Elverum & Sun imprint. His packaging ranges wildly from one extreme to another from homemade CD-R’s with photo-copied covers to the lavish Mount Eerie pts. 6 & 7 hardbound book. His aesthetic is typical of early ‘90’s indie rock DIY standards, where bands cared more about control than commercial reach. His latest as Mount Eerie, a minimalist collection called Lost Wisdom, came out last week via Southern.

The current Mount Eerie shows are being held in strictly all ages settings. All entrepreneurial bands bring merchandise to their shows, but Elverum has a range of goods that extends beyond the typical selection of baby-doll t-shirts and silk-screened hoodies. As he suggests modestly on his website, “I will be selling many exciting and ‘expensive’ things at all these shows. If you have money, bring as much as possible to the show. You may want to buy something.”

Tour Dates:

Tues. Oct. 14th- Toronto, ONChurch of the Redeemer, 162 Bloor St. W (at Avenue Road), 7pm doors, $15 (with Julie Doiron and Calm Down, It’s Monday and Wyrd Visions (I think))

Weds. Oct. 15th- East Lansing, MIScene Metrospace, 110 Charles St., 8pm, $8 (with Julie Doiron and Calm Down, It’s Monday and Frontier Ruckus)

Thurs. Oct. 16th- Pontiac, MICrofoot Ballroom doors at 7pm, DON’T BE LATE! The whole bill is excellent. (with Julie Doiron and NO KIDS and Mirah)

Fri. Oct. 17th- Cincinnati, OH– Art Damage Lodge, 4120 Hamilton Ave., 9pm, $6 (with Julie Doiron and Calm Down, It’s Monday)

Sat. Oct. 18th- Gambier, OH– Kenyon College, Horn Gallery, 8pm (with Julie Doiron and Calm Down, It’s Monday)

Sun. Oct. 19th- Delaware, OH– Ohio Wesleyan University, Black Box at Chappelear, 7pm (with Julie Doiron and Calm Down, It’s Monday)

Mon. Oct. 20th- Chicago, Ill.– AV-aerie, 2000 W. Fulton (at Damen), doors 7:30 (don’t be late), $10 (with Julie Doiron and Calm Down, It’s Monday)

Tues. Oct. 21st- Madison, WIGates of Heaven James Madison Park, 302 E Gorham St., doors at 6pm, (it’s early homie!) $9 (with Julie Doiron and Calm Down, It’s Monday)

Weds. Oct. 22nd- Louisville, KY– Skull Alley, 1017 E. Broadway, $7 (with Julie Doiron and Calm Down, It’s Monday)

Thurs. Oct. 23rd- Bloomington, INthe Cinemat, 123 S. Walnut, 8pm (with Julie Doiron and Calm Down, It’s Monday and Bronze Float)

Fri. Oct. 24th- St. Louis, MOLemp Neighborhood Arts Center 3301 Lemp Ave. 8pm, $6 (with Julie Doiron and Calm Down, It’s Monday)

Sat. Oct. 25th- Springfield, MO– “Figment Gallery & Culture House” at Randy Bacon Gallery, 600 W. College $9 (with Julie Doiron and Calm Down, It’s Monday)

Sun. Oct. 26th- Norman, OK– Opolis, 113 N. Main, 8$ advance, $10 at door (with Julie Doiron and Calm Down, It’s Monday and Early Beat)

Mon. Oct. 27th- Santa Fe, NM– Warehouse 21, 1614 Paseo de Peralta, 7pm (with Julie Doiron and Calm Down, It’s Monday and Apple Miner Colony)

Tues. Oct. 28th- Phoenix, AZModified 407 E. Roosevelt, $8 (with Julie Doiron and Calm Down, It’s Monday and French Quarter)

Weds. Oct. 29th- early show, 3pm: Irvine, CA– Engineering Lecture Hall 100 at UC Irvine
later show, evening: Los Angeles, CA– walk, bike, or public transport to: SiteLA, 2522 Sunset Blvd. (with Lucky Dragons, BARR, Julie Doiron and Calm Down, It’s Monday)

Thurs. Oct. 30th- Santa Cruz, CA– The Crepe Place, $8 (with Whysp and Eddie Loves Debbie)

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