Music

Mount Eerie: Clear Moon

Mount Eerie's journeys into the sublime aren't just philosophical, because Clear Moon is about turning the possibility of new experiences into new realities.


Mount Eerie

Clear Moon

Label: P.W. Elverum & Sun
US Release Date: 2012-05-22
UK Release Date: 2012-05-22
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The sublime has been a central interest of aesthetic theory puzzled over by deep thinkers from Edmund Burke to Kant and Hegel to postmodernists like Fredric Jameson. Eliciting the mixed reactions of overwhelming fear and intense pleasure, the sublime forces the individual to deal with phenomena beyond the easy comprehension of what the senses are conditioned to perceive. It’s what Romantic poets grappled with as they attempted to tap into extreme experiences of pain and ecstasy, and what Romantic painters tried to portray by representing the smallness of humanity in the face of nature in its most awe-inspiring manifestations. And it’s what Phil Elverum has captured in his work with the Microphones and Mount Eerie, crafting soundscapes shaped by swelling orchestration, dense melody, and metal-hardened atmospherics.

Indeed, the name Mount Eerie couldn’t be more appropriate for what amounts to Elverum’s sonic excursions into the sublime, as the sweeping compositions he creates on Clear Moon bring to mind the immense, the elemental, and the otherworldly. A lot of that effect has to do with the way Elverum constructed the album, which was recorded in a studio that he repurposed from the large, open space of an out-of-commission Catholic church. If anything, there are moments that get you thinking the album was actually made in a gothic cathedral: The echoing, immersive production Elverum comes up with on Clear Moon gives him plenty of room to explore My Bloody Valentine-like shoegazer mysticism and organic experimentation that’s reminiscent of Neutral Milk Hotel, all suffused through and through with the lush, woodsy Washington state environment where Elverum lives and works.

In the themes and musical structures Clear Moon develops, Elverum sounds like a man who’s trying to find his bearings in a world that surrounds him and dwarfs him. That journey starts on the majestic opener “Through the Trees Pt. 2”, as Elverum goes existentialist -- “Misunderstood and disillusioned / I go on describing this place / And the way it feels to live and die”, are the first lines of the song -- to the pastoral strum of an acoustic guitar and a faint heartbeat-like drum barely perceptible at the bottom of the mix. Yet even as the layers of instrumentation build, with clattering percussion, resonant strings, and some tolling bells all adding texture, Elverum’s calm, still voice conveys a searching quality that remains resolute no matter how much bigger everything around him gets to be. When the track gently opens up from a quiet meditation into something more expansive, you can almost imagine Elverum on top of Mount Erie (his band’s geographical namesake) looking down at vast vistas like the lonely figure in Caspar David Friedrich’s Wanderer above a Sea of Fog -- or, as Elverum puts it himself in so many words, “The tumultuous place where I live / Comes a revealing”,

Just what the place where he lives reveals is what Elverum continues to seek on Clear Moon, as he creates viscerally powerful and emotionally connected pieces that reflect the grandeur of the natural world and what it makes him feel. That faint heartbeat in “Through the Trees” reappears on “the Place I Live” in the form of a thumped bass string that carves out just enough space amidst the haunting strings and dizzying feedback to make itself heard, suggesting that there’s a human touch that can’t be obscured by the white noise. So when Elverum sings, “If I look / Or if I don’t look / Clouds are always passing over”, to what sounds like a wobbly wind instrument that’s only growing in volume, he gives you the idea that he’s at peace with his place in the universe, no matter how small and insignificant it might ultimately be. It’s that sense of revelation and understanding that gives even the most daunting pieces on Clear Moon something immediate and personal to relate to: Harrowing tracks like “the Place Lives” and “Over Dark Water” may expand on the forays into dark metal that Elverum began on his previous Mount Eerie recordings, but what stand out about them are the swelling sentiments they inspire, as the sheets of disorienting, steely noise come off both ominous and oddly beautiful, imposing yet with a vulnerable underbelly beneath. The title track has the same depth and weight to it, but it stretches things out to play up the drama, as cascading washes of sound and Elverum’s echoing vocals evoke a sense of mystery and melancholy.

In the course of creating a musical expression for his existential condition, it’s as if Elverum finds a way to come to terms with and even appreciate what he can have no control over by giving in to an imagination that’s as large as the experiences he’s trying to give voice to. “Lone Bell” is a piece that’s too big to be contained by the standard boundaries between genres, as some strutting jazz-like elements like skronky horns and brushed drums bump up against flamboyant metal riffs on top of a droning noise-rock canvas. “House Shape” has a titanic sound to it that also has its catchy charms, as its metallic heft ends up careening and veering towards warm, fuzzy shoegaze, a tightly packed ball of melodic noise that’s like a crunchy, tree-hugging take on the woozy pop of Isn’t Anything-era MBV.

In short, the sensory overload of Elverum’s music can be consciousness changing. Ultimately, that’s what is sublime about Clear Moon, as it gets you to probe the limits of what you can take in and process only to push aesthetic boundaries further. In the case of Mount Eerie, though, Elverum’s musings are not just theoretical or philosophical, because his music is about turning the possibility of new experiences into new realities.

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From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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