Album Review: Mount Eerie – Clear Moon

[P.W. Elverum & Sun; 2012]

The darkness that pervades the whole of Clear Moon is familiar territory for Phil Elverum. Even before his vocal acknowledgement of Black Metal as an influence, Elverum’s work as the Microphones delved into the darker side of the soul. Perhaps not in a corpse-y horror movie sort of way, but at least in the sense that his work has never been afraid to shirk the big questions of life. His songs consistently aim for themes much bigger than most singer-songwriters touch on. This record, Elverum’s latest under his Mount Eerie moniker is no different.

Even from the opening track, which is ostensibly a sequel to “Through The Trees” from Wind’s Poem, Elverum sings lines like “Misunderstood and disillusioned/I go on describing this place/and the way it feels to live and die.” A more pithy approximation of Elverum’s songwriting focus couldn’t have been more readily constructed. As Elverum has recently discussed in interviews, Clear Moon in particular seems tied to his intimate knowledge of his hometown of Anacortes, Washington, both in its distinct imagery and in the overall feel of the music. Where such specific focus could be alienating, Elverum makes a record that is instead inviting. Though the synths that litter the record could easily mirror the environments that Elverum interacts with in Anacortes, they could similarly soundtrack late-night walks in New York City or, say, long drives through harsh storms in Central Florida. I guess what I mean to say, is although Elverum instills this record with images, both musically and lyrically, that are so distinctly representative of the environment in which he created them, they are still universal enough, or perhaps malleable enough that they can be retrofitted to any experience that the listener undertakes.

But back to the darkness for a bit. Though Elverum’s turns as Mount Eerie have taken wildly diverging paths, there’s that underlying darkness that’s pinned them all together. Whether in the understated folkiness of his collaboration with French-Canadian singer-songwriter Julie Doiron or in the heaviness of Wind’s Poem, his most recent full length, he never strays too far from these darker tones, both lyrically and musically. There’s something special about the way he explores these darker more existential tones on Clear Moon, however. Not since his landmark work, The Glow Pt. 2 has he synthesized songwriting elements in a way that felt as fresh as this record does. Sure, his previous records as Mount Eerie were special in their own way, near everything he does is, but the terrestrial crash of songs like “Samurai Sword” had always been a creative high point. Only Clear Moon seems to approach those visionary tracks. The terrifying psuedo-chant of “Over Dark Water” exemplifies this new vision. The burbling electric guitar lines that underpin the whole of the song, while a choir of female voices ominously intones over the top, provide the subtle touches that have been missing on recent Mount Eerie records, the touches that take an album from being a great Phil Elverum record to one of the more outstanding records of the year. Pair that with the transition into the overbearing synth tones of the title track and you have an album where Elverum is pushing himself creatively while still exploring the same thematic regions of the human psyche that he has over his whole career.

While all that may sound hyperbolic, especially with the knowledge that Clear Moon is meant to function as the lighter side of sorts to Elverum’s second album of the year, Ocean Roar, I assure you that that’s not the case. When you’re lost in the cacophony of the title track or the understated beauty of “Yawning Sky” it becomes immediately clear that this isn’t a record to hear and quickly dispose of. This record, as much of Elverum’s work is, is a grower in the most beautiful sense, and one that I can’t imagine will lose its brilliance any time soon.