It Was Hot, We Stayed in the Water
(P.W. Elverum & Sun)
US: 28 May 2013
Thirteen years has passed since It Was Hot, We Stayed in the Water made its debut among the noise that was the year 2000. In hindsight, it really is a miracle that music with these kinds of dynamics would see the daylight—much less survive to the status of reissuable—when the world was so enamored of lazy raps over poorly sampled mono signals and the ‘new, improved’ downtrodden rock of the self-loathed. Lo-fi as a movement was in its infancy, and with that same hindsight used earlier, one can easily say the Microphones were one of the finest examples of the new Warholians. In the spirit of the Velvet Underground’s White Light, White Heat, It Was Hot displays a real sense of Andy Warhol’s artistic visions: a catastrophe of sound swept up and re-purposed for a different generation that needed its own interpretation of a soup can, its own Lou Reed, and its own audible anti-establishment. That’s hindsight for you, but for those who may be experiencing Stayed in the Water for the first time now, you’re in for a real treat of a trainwreck.
The Microphones have always had this dynamic of cars slamming into concrete walls. While in the driver’s seat of said car, this band takes the time to listen to the rhythmic intermittence of the windshield wipers coupled with the melody of the dying engine before assessing the damage. If you can get to that, you’ll get It Was Hot, We Stayed in the Water for all of the artistic maladies within. This vinyl reissue is for some intents and purposes a doorway to the now and a look at the past influences through the skew of a Viewmaster. It’s hard to believe this was released in 2000, just like it’s hard to think of the new hipsters creating something derivative and original at the same time. But enough pontificating on timeline and what is hip. Let’s get to the music.
“The Pull” opens the album with a solid minute of guitar monotony, which is the perfect setup to the concrete wall that’s about to get car-slapped. It disturbs the soul while freeing it at the same time, much like “Misunderstood” from Wilco’s Being There did during my first listen. Following the intensity of “Pull” from a formulaic perspective, it would seem right to ‘shift gears’ into something faster, meaner. This does happen, but not to the degree a major label executive would like. “Ice” starts in chaos, and amazingly (yet abruptly) settles into a major melody fit for angels, ending in vinyl hang-up noise (which is perfect for the vinyl reissue experience—you’ll look twice at the turntable). “Sand” is a poem of tone, melody, brevity, and civility, while “The Glow” and its epic genre-bending strut over the course of eleven minutes shows innovative form, choice production technique, and quality musicianship. Then “Drums” throws you down the chasm once more. “The Gleam” and its druggy coupling of distortion and melody is compelling at the least, but its abbreviated run-time is frustrating. “The Breeze” could stand to be a bit longer, too, but the quality of composition overshadows the short duration(s). Someone needs to invent remote-controlled track repeat on a turntable just for this record alone.
All and all, the diversity in sound throughout the entirety of It Was Hot, We Stayed in the Water is titillating to the ears. It’s an exercise in spatial dissonance, and a feast of inspiration to revisit time and time again. It’s on the road to timeless reverence.