If you are the kind of person who can’t see the forest through the trees, you are not going to enjoy the Microphones’ latest album, Mount Eerie. For it is in the details that Phil Elvrum’s latest opus unfolds. On the Microphones’ first three albums, Phil Elvrum explored themes of wind, sea, and woods with sweeping psychedelic strokes. His last effort Glow, Pt 2, was a wonderful trip through a kaleidoscope of swirling sounds that stretched the bounds of lo-fi recordings while planting a smile on its listener’s faces. On Glow, Pt 2, Elvrum displayed a mad hatter genius for pop music, placing irresistible melodies at the end of even the most deranged hissings. On Mount Eerie, he leaves all pop-leanings behind, preferring to tell a story that is nowhere near as complex as the album he has created.
Mount Eerie is divided into five pieces, “The Sun”, “Solar System”, “Universe”, “Mt. Eerie”, and “Universe”. The story reads like a bad Native American tale about the forming of the world, or at least it starts that way. Seconds after being born you are chased by death up a mountain while being observed by a ball of fire. Then while lying in a valley reminiscing about a girl you once knew, you get freaked out because the ball of fire has set. In the fourth piece you are set upon by a mysterious killer, whom you watch kill you and then watch as vultures devour your body. Finally, while invisible, you realize there’s another mountain above you. It also turns out that the universe is bigger than you first thought.
Don’t worry, musically his tale works brilliantly. Elvrum grew up under the shadow of Mt. Erie, the peak that dominates Fidalgo Island. Clearly affected by years of looking up at it, it’s not hard to understand his obvious metaphor for life. Yet, just as each level of a mountain reveals something different to those scaling it, so does the album. Opening with over ten minutes of pounding drums and tolling bells, Elvrum chases his listener up the mountain, heart threatening to pound through his chest. As the pounding fades into a nonsensical folk rant, the listener is barely given a moment’s respite. However, as the narrator is finding a moment’s salvation to dream in a lush valley, the listener is treated to delicate guitar picking and light strumming that is as soothing as “The Sun” is unsettling. On “Mount Eerie”, vultures (whose part is sung by Mirah) tease “Do you really think there’s anybody out there?” The vultures, are mocking in their cruelty, tearing apart at the dignity of life as they tear the flesh. It is a truly terrifying moment as the beauty of the mountain top is erased by isolation and loneliness. There is musical salvation in the last part as you learn to see that there is more to the world than you thought you knew.
To enjoy Mt. Eerie, you need to set aside some time devoid of distraction. A quick run through the album will not reveal the musical depths that the Microphones expose. A melody here, time change there, unsettling piano pings, there are a bevy of sounds used to try and portray the fullness that makes up each and every day of our lives. Concept albums can often be difficult affairs, more geared towards scratching their creators self indulgent itch than providing listeners with an enjoyable experience. While Mount Eerie is not on the same level as The Wall or Tommy, it is a remarkable effort by a brilliantly talented band.