Here Comes the Feeling You'd Thought You'd Forgotten

Mount Eerie by the Microphones

It's hard to discuss the Microphones, partially because of my lack of experience with the band. Instead of coming from years of understanding, or even just some prior recognition of Phil Elvrum's work, this marks my first exposure to the Microphones.

And upon first listen, it is immediately clear that this album demands revisiting and space to grow. So while I am reviewing this today, consider this to be the first part in possibly a series, as I will freely admit here that I am bound to be missing the majority of what this album is attempting to achieve.

Mount Eerie is named after the mountain that Elvrum lived by, growing up on Fidalgo Island. The story, succinctly summarized, follows the creation of the world and your birth, and details your ascent up the mountain as death chases you. You reminisce about a girl you once knew, but by the fourth song you are dead, with the vultures picking at your body. However, once you are dead, the universe is revealed to you.

While the story might sound incredibly abstract (honestly bordering on the insincere, and could easily be seen as meaningless), the songs are genuine -- or at the very least, Elvrum's hushed crooning could make you believe it.

It's precisely the music and Elvrum's voice (and perfectly complementing backing vocals) that keeps the story from becoming "a bad Native American tale". The opening track is a daunting 17 minute song, beginning with an almost heartbeat-like throb, slowly evolving into a 10 minute complex drum rhythm and closes with Elvrum bravely singing acapella. From there on Elvrum's hushed, intimately quiet voice rings with sincerity, while his collaborators (Death, vultures, the Universe, and other entities) take their roles seriously, making it more honest and less put-on.

The concept and the honesty of it is admittedly hard to understand. The lyrics border on obsessive on the subject of sight; in "The Sun" Elvrum commands "see me" over and over, though two songs later in "Universe" (the third track) Elvrum questions who is there to see him. In "Mount Eerie", where Elvrum dies, the vultures ask him "Do you see what happens?" as they tear apart his flesh and devour his dead body. And as if in answer, the final track "Universe" (the fifth track) Elvrum finds that "Now that I have disappeared I have my sight".

The album is an unsettling and abstract metaphor of life and loneliness. However it is far from just bizarre or horrifying -- there are moments of hopefulness. The final track is a warm embrace of the universe, with the lines "Oh universe, I see your face looks just like mine/We are wide open". Almost sweetly romantic (but also slightly haunting), "Solar System" expresses a certain type of calm found in reminiscing; Elvrum's loneliness and isolation on the mountain peak is counteracted by the girl's omnipresence in his surrounding, singing "I know you're out there". It's precisely the warmth of the album that makes it ring with sincerity; instead of attempting to create images, it only invites you in to understand.

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