Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Album Of The Week: The Microphones- The Glow Pt. 2

Much as I appreciate how countless blogs and music review sites have helped me discover a lot of music that would otherwise have passed me by, I do sometimes long for the chance to discover music on my own, as when I pawed through my parents' vinyl collection, listening to what looked interesting. Furthermore, I appreciate the more direct access that the MySpace's and Twitter's of the world give us to musicians, but there's a real appeal and charm to the reclusive or press shy artist, one who lets the music speak for itself. And though Phil Elvrum (aka Microphones, but nowadays going by the Mount Eerie moniker) isn't that reclusive, there's still a special sense of mystery and other-ness to The Glow Pt. 2.

I accidentally bought this album way back in 2001. Somewhere I had seen it compared to Neutral Milk Hotel's In The Aeroplane Over The Sea and, forgetting the name of what I was really looking for, I settled for The Glow Pt. 2, hoping it was what I couldn't remember. Even though Aeroplane is deserving of all of its cult-like love, this album ended up meaning more to me because I didn't know anything about it. I didn't recognize any of the names in the liner notes and the record label didn't ring a bell, either, so to me there was an outsider art quality to the album. Maybe it helps if you know that in 2001, the most underground stuff I was listening to was Tortoise and Mogwai (this being the era of post-rock).

It's hard to describe this album because while it holds together as a brilliant hour-long monolith, the music never seems to stick to one easily definable style. This is at the heart of its appeal to me. Often sticking to a lo-fi indie rock and singer/songwriter base, the album also makes use of unexpected elements, like a brass section ('The Moon'), ominous film soundtrack style orchestral stuff ('(Something)'), and experimental noise-rock ('Samurai Sword'). Helping tie of all this together are a prevalent theme of nature (I was tempted to call this "the indie rock version of Leaves Of Grass" but thought better of it) as well as barely audible ship fog horn sounds. Combined with the intimate, imperfect, and naturalist production, listening to the album is not unlike daydreaming on a sunny day while clouds and storms sometimes roll through, every so often the forlorn moan of a fog horn rearing its head.

While writing this review, I've been trying to figure out why I've never sought out anything else by Phil Elvrum. I love this album and think it's one of the most unique and underappreciated gems of this decade. So why don't I want more?? Well, I think it's because I need The Glow Pt. 2 to remain a mystery, to retain a sense of singular-ness. I want its odd-yet-poetic acoustic paens to nature, its long silences and loud spikes, its "I hope you have a pair of headphones on hand" production, and its indefinable atmosphere to remain just a little beyond me. Too often I want everything explained in great detail, or to be easily defined, and because of this things lose their appeal. After eight years, I still don't know what label to apply to this music and I don't know all that much more about Phil Elvrum. And I like it that way.

No comments: