The Microphones in 2020

Aleksandr Smirnov reflects on his Album of the Year

The release of Phil Elverum aka The Microphones’ latest work caught me at the exact time when I needed it.

I had just graduated college and, as if it is not difficult enough to figure out one’s life after such a chapter comes to a close, I was thrown into a world in the midst of a pandemic. At that time, it became strikingly and worryingly clear that people who had their lives on track for the past 5, 10, 15, or more years went off the rails once again. I suddenly felt that helplessness that is popularly portrayed in various films and TV series: it’s that moment when the main character faces something irresolvable, and the better the film (or series) is the more desperate and alone it makes the audience feel. Of course, it gets resolved in the end (at least to some degree), but here’s something you’ve never heard before: it’s a movie, not real life.

In the summer, I got into the habit of going out of my parents’ house and walking to a nearby creek. I found a nice place there with rocks that I could sit on and bathe my feet in the calmly rushing water. It was the unemployment, the uncertainty, the futility of my efforts to make something that led me to start taking these walks. It took my mind off of the comical desperation that my life was. This summer was the first since they moved in to that house, so sometimes I would also drive to our old one to take walks there; nostalgia is almost a sixth sense for me.

I love music. Very much. But there are times when I am in such a disgusting state both mentally and physically that even the thought of listening to a record I haven’t heard before would be met with impenetrable apathy; let alone relistening to favorites. Then the physical side gave its first warning sign, that I had to start moving, otherwise any purpose of waking up each morning would be lost. So, I did. And the joy of listening to new records came back to me, however, that parade of mine did experience some rain. I barely felt anything from the records I was listening to. Gladly, I was still keen to keep on looking for something that will resonate, but it was becoming increasingly difficult once again. And then came the waterfall.

The very first time I saw the 44:44 length on Microphones in 2020‘s single track, it gave me a mixed feeling between annoyance and a hope that it’s just an album mixed into one track so as to not have the listeners skipping tracks. When I realized that it was all one track, the annoyance reappeared. I was in ambivalence between the beautiful melodies, dark lyrics, with my feet in the water and rage that I cannot explain to this day. It was rage directed at the album and nowhere else. Everything about it angered me: the length, the title, Phil’s voice. Everything! And then as it was coming to its end, and I simmered down, a realization came: it made me feel something! I was not too happy that it was rage that I felt, but it was something.

Since then many things changed. I went on a road trip with a dear friend and that was an experience that I will never regret. At the end of August, I saw the Rocky Mountains, got an anxiety attack in Seattle, someone broke my car window in Portland, and in South Dakota got snowed in like it was November. And throughout all of this I noticed that Microphones in 2020 had been on my mind. I listened to it again, when I got back to Minnesota and it was an entirely new experience. I did not notice the passing of almost 45 minutes. I felt like Phil was singing my own fears, hopes, and experiences back to me. Although, obviously, our lives are very different but it did not matter. I was not distracted by the literal meanings of his words, I felt something a lot more cosmic. The linguistical aspects of language were so far detached from this experience that they may have been just some dreams that I don’t trust.

It was about at that moment that I realized the very first thing that I actually want to do with my life. I want to go home. My parents and I immigrated to the United States in 2016, but I constantly felt that I did not belong there. And right there and then, at the end of September (by then I had already listened to Phil’s record a number of times over) I realized that my path lies home, in Moscow. Having made a tentative plan of how my life is going to look like after such a big event as moving, I purchased the plane ticket. I came home to find myself still confused just about everything but there was one thing I was certain about for the first time: I am on the right track now. Getting my job applications rejected still felt burdening, but I have discovered a new endurance to it. I finally feel less discouraged.

I also came back to something that I have missed over the years in the United States. My best friend and I have been wanting to start making music together but the former distance would not allow for that to happen. And now it’s here. We are playing together almost every time that we see each other and it makes us both happy. But times of helplessness are unavoidable.

Because besides from moving home, other aspects of my life are still up in the air. When you’re younger every single thing vibrates with significance, but I noticed that less and less things do for me as times goes by. Virtually by any measure I am still young, so the reason is not age. I still don’t know why it goes this way. But Phil keeps helping me. Listening to him among other things makes me feel consoled, because the true state of all things is a waterfall with no bottom crashing end and ledge to plummet off. And there’s peace to that knowledge. I don’t know how many more things I will see until I can’t no more, but I am ready to have my eyes open.

It was my birthday recently. Over the years I have lost any significant connection to that date, aside from having an excuse to have the people dearest to me around. That night I didn’t notice how the room began spinning and how I followed it. But it felt good. When everyone went to sleep, it was 5am, but I was still wide awake (not because I physically couldn’t close my eyes). So, I went outside to have a cigarette and listen to some music. I realized that my emotions were spinning in an even larger circle than the room or myself. For a little bit I was anxious because no music that I wanted to listen to would come to mind. And then it just started playing in my head, heavily reverberated almost begging to be heard properly. So, with no second thoughts I opened Bandcamp and the timer from 44:44 began. There are no words either in quantity or quality that I could use to describe this experience that was new yet again. Nothing was true but the trembling and the laughing in the wind.

Now I am sitting in my apartment, battling with sleeplessness and waking up after noon, but I’m not afraid. I feel worried every second of every day, but I am not scared. Because after all of this and the previous years of my life, I only came to one realization that I am certain will last until I breathe my last breathe: there’s no end.

Read Aleksandr’s BPM posts here.