Listening to the Microphones latest release, It Was Hot, We Stayed in the Water, is much like the sensation of looking at visual works by Basquiat.
Phil Elvrum, the only actual member of the Microphones, has created a collage of sounds that recall the textures from the chaotic paintings of Basquiat. Basquiat was first a street artist and then an acclaimed artist who became friends with Andy Warhol. The sounds the Microphones create emulate Basquiat’s overall chaos. From only one listening, it’s difficult to pick up patterns or order to the chaos. But, after listening to the complete album a few times, the coherence is obvious.
Just as Basquiat created seemingly random pictures with scribbles, creatures that look as if a three-year-old drew them, and with blobs of color strewn all over, Elvrum creates sounds from a nylon-stringed acoustic guitar, hushed vocal harmonies, accordion, tape loops, ambient nature sounds, xylophone, feedback and fuzz blasts. Each artist uses unusual and seemingly chaotic combinations to create a unified work.
Elvrum, a songwriter, producer and multi-instrumentalist in his early twenties is part of the bursting independent music scene in Olympia, Washington. He is also a member of Old Time Relijun and D+. And if that isn’t enough, he was the producer of Mirah, Dub Narcotic/Jon Spencer, Old Time Relijun and Jason Traeger.
His previous releases as the Microphones have received critical acclaim. Don’t Wake Me Up, released in August of 1999, was praised in CMJ and Magnet. But, It Was Hot, We Stayed in the Water is probably the most accessible; it’s being played on college and commercial radios across the country.
Elvrum deserves the acclaim he’s received. But, of course, he had a little help from his friends Khaela Maricich, Mirah Yomtovzeitlyn, Jenn Kliese, Anna Oxygen, Karl Blau and Jason Wall at Dub Narcotic Studio. The result is an album that stays interesting throughout the entirety.
From lulling looped guitar, static fuzz and melodic keyboards to spastic drum solos and a capella choir parts, variety in sound keeps ears interested until the last note. A perfect example is “The Glow.” The song begins with acoustic guitar and the airy, high and childlike voice of Elvrum. Soon a choir comes in, creating dissonance. Later the song becomes ambient and a girl voice floats above the electronic music. All of a sudden drums begin blaring and towards the end everything blurs and becomes muffled until it fades to silence. This epic of a song is over 11 minutes long, but worth every minute.
Other memorable tracks include “The Breeze,” which has a trip-hop feel and is heavy on accordion, and the closing track of the album, “Organ,” which is a heavy, slow, organ adagio that begins at pianissimo and crescendos to fortissimo amongst atmospheric distortion.
But, all the songs on It Was Hot, We Stayed in the Water are worth listening to. The beauty of this album is that all the songs fit together to create one gigantic eclectic musical collage that will both lull and entice.
// Notes from the Road
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