PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.
Music

Mount Eerie: Sauna

From beginning to end, Sauna reads its map upside down, but finds the destination all the same.


Mount Eerie

Sauna

Label: P.W. Elverum & Sun
US Release Date: 2015-02-03
UK Release Date: 2015-02-03
Label Website
Artist Website
Amazon
iTunes

Enjoyable as saunas are, their heat can be at once relieving and pressing. Within each song, if not in every moment, Sauna has its own kind of physical duality. Late in 2012, after the release of Clear Moon and Ocean Roar, Mount Eerie released a 7” where each side had all of the songs from one album playing simultaneously. The concept worked in a peculiar way, as the ‘songs’ captured something akin to the aura of their respective album. The hum of “Clear Moon” was warmer, while “Ocean Roar” was stormier. Sauna can be disorienting at times, too, but, more to the point, it has a peculiar way of making you feel like you're listening to two overlapping albums that follow perpendicular impulses.

What is very loud but also very quiet? Opener “Sauna” feels intended to find an answer to such a riddle. Over its ten minutes -- half of which is not much more than a sustained organ note and the crackling sound of, yes, a sauna -- the song isn’t so much ‘quiet-loud’ (though it does that, too) as it is both at the same time. The dark feedback storm that lashes against the quiet inside (“I don’t think the world still exists / Only this room in the snow / And the light from the coals”) for eight minutes finally swells and hovers overhead. The humid calm keeps indoors, with the gentle overlapping voices of Phil Elverum and Allyson Foster (also of Hungry Cloud Darkening) offering one another respite from outside forces that threaten to overwhelm.

It is a great piece of scene-setting, but not quite indicative of a banya rock opera to follow. It is, however, the first of a dozen unseen left turns, and if Sauna were to be a concept album, the premise would be confounding expectations. When “Turmoil” begins to build, it also begins to fade away, making good on the fleeting presence promised in its initial image, “In the morning it feels like coming in to a clearing / And the disorientation lingers only for a breath.” “Dragon” does not itself roar, but whispers with delicate layers of vocals and grazed nylon strings, with what sounds like an airplane passing overhead in the middle serving as the titular flying monster. “Emptiness” is a dense braid of organ, cymbals, and Elverum’s winding soliloquy about “More emptiness again / And more, and more.” “Boat” and “Planets” are brief when they seem to beg for more time to unfold, perhaps making room for the multi-part anti-prog culmination of “Spring”. From beginning to end, song by song, Sauna reads its map upside down, but reaches its destination all the same.

Before Sauna, the symbiotic 2012 duo of Clear Moon and Ocean Roar was a culmination of long-building themes in Phil Elverum’s oeuvre. Natural forces have come in to focus on, and provided the titles for, the last three Mount Eerie records: wind, moon, ocean. These three things have been name-dropped in numerous Elverum songs even since he began recording under his previous nom de plume, the Microphones. A probably incomplete accounting finds the moon rising seven times, and the ocean (including waves and water) coming up at least eight. If you count the air and wind together, that would be a minimum of nine appearances. (If you’re wondering where the sun fits in to all of this, it is his business partner: P.W. Elverum & Sun, Ltd.)

It has been suggested that Elverum’s music is about a sense of place, and that is probably still the place to start. Forests may keep appearing on Mount Eerie album sleeves, but there’s more going on than just ‘tree gaze’. The description on the P.W. Elverum & Sun website explains that “’Vikings and zen and real life’ are the reference points” for the new album, but nature remains central. At many times, Sauna is like a journal of lonely walks in the woods, the reveries to be found in the absence of other people replacing the dramas of their presence. Even when the journeys are more mundane -- as in “Pumpkin”, where he walks into town to visit the bookstore, recounting, “And every ordinary moment / Looking at trash on the ground” -- Elverum finds the illumination of experience among the “wet rocks and dark sand”. Inverted, reordered, even exploded; underneath the album’s conscious sonic readjustments, the heart of Mount Eerie beats on.

8

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.

Film

15 Classic Horror Films That Just Won't Die

Those lucky enough to be warped by these 15 classic horror films, now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber, never got over them.

Music

Sixteen Years Later Wayne Payne Follows Up His Debut

Waylon Payne details a journey from addiction to redemption on Blue Eyes, The Harlot, The Queer, The Pusher & Me, his first album since his 2004 debut.

Music

Every Song on the Phoenix Foundation's 'Friend Ship' Is a Stand-Out

Friend Ship is the Phoenix Foundation's most personal work and also their most engaging since their 2010 classic, Buffalo.

Music

Kevin Morby Gets Back to Basics on 'Sundowner'

On Sundowner, Kevin Morby sings of valleys, broken stars, pale nights, and the midwestern American sun. Most of the time, he's alone with his guitar and a haunting mellotron.

Music

Lydia Loveless Creates Her Most Personal Album with 'Daughter'

Given the turmoil of the era, you might expect Lydia Loveless to lean into the anger, amplifying the electric guitar side of her cowpunk. Instead, she created a personal record with a full range of moods, still full of her typical wit.

Music

Flowers for Hermes: An Interview with Performing Activist André De Shields

From creating the title role in The Wiz to winning an Emmy for Ain't Misbehavin', André De Shields reflects on his roles in more than four decades of iconic musicals, including the GRAMMY and Tony Award-winning Hadestown.

Film

The 13 Greatest Horror Directors of All Time

In honor of Halloween, here are 13 fascinating fright mavens who've made scary movies that much more meaningful.

Music

British Jazz and Soul Artists Interpret the Classics on '​Blue Note Re:imagined'

Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what's going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.

Film

Bill Murray and Rashida Jones Add Another Shot to 'On the Rocks'

Sofia Coppola's domestic malaise comedy On the Rocks doesn't drown in its sorrows -- it simply pours another round, to which we raise our glass.

Music

​Patrick Cowley Remade Funk and Disco on 'Some Funkettes'

Patrick Cowley's Some Funkettes sports instrumental renditions from between 1975-1977 of songs previously made popular by Donna Summer, Herbie Hancock, the Temptations, and others.

Music

The Top 10 Definitive Breakup Albums

When you feel bombarded with overpriced consumerism disguised as love, here are ten albums that look at love's hangover.

Music

Dustin Laurenzi's Natural Language Digs Deep Into the Jazz Quartet Format with 'A Time and a Place'

Restless tenor saxophonist Dustin Laurenzi runs his four-piece combo through some thrilling jazz excursions on a fascinating new album, A Time and a Place.

Television

How 'Watchmen' and 'The Boys' Deconstruct American Fascism

Superhero media has a history of critiquing the dark side of power, hero worship, and vigilantism, but none have done so as radically as Watchmen and The Boys.

Music

Floodlights' 'From a View' Is Classicist Antipodal Indie Guitar Pop

Aussie indie rockers, Floodlights' debut From a View is a very cleanly, crisply-produced and mixed collection of shambolic, do-it-yourself indie guitar music.

Music

CF Watkins Embraces a Cool, Sophisticated Twang on 'Babygirl'

CF Watkins has pulled off the unique trick of creating an album that is imbued with the warmth of the American South as well as the urban sophistication of New York.

Music

Helena Deland Suggests Imagination Is More Rewarding Than Reality on 'Something New'

Canadian singer-songwriter Helena Deland's first full-length release Someone New reveals her considerable creative talents.

Music

While the Sun Shines: An Interview with Composer Joe Wong

Joe Wong, the composer behind Netflix's Russian Doll and Master of None, articulates personal grief and grappling with artistic fulfillment into a sweeping debut album.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.