Mount Eerie, Okay and Everybody play at The Space
Mount Eerie focuses on the inevitability of destruction through creation
Phil Elverum of the musical project Mount Eerie felt like he was tempting fate. He created an 8-foot-wide painting of his house engulfed in flames—and hung it inside of that very house.
He admits to the strangeness of it, and the painting has since been taken down. The house, Elverum says, “hasn’t burned down yet.”
“I was trying to look at the inevitability of destruction,” he says, a concept that this prolific artist admits to repeatedly exploring, both sonically and visually. It’s this theme of impermanence and loss that Elverum has been exploring for years—at home and as far away as Norway (a kingdom he would later escape to)—which he depicts throughout the songs on his new release with Julie Doiron and Fred Squire, Lost Wisdom. The CD features that burning house illustration as the cover art.
Elverum, who’s also recorded under the moniker the Microphones, recorded Lost Wisdom over the course of “two relaxed days” when friends Doiron and Squire visited him in his small hometown of Anacortes, Wash. He says they didn’t go into his studio with the intention of making an album, but rather casually decided to play a song together for pleasurable diversion. The playing led to recording. “And then after each one, it was like, ‘Well, should we try another? OK,’” Elverum explains. By the end of those two days, 10 songs were recorded, eight of which he’d previously recorded and a new one he threw “together at the last minute” in the studio—titled “Flaming Home.”
The recordings, both in the nature of content and overall sound, can be at times, well, eerie. That’s not unusual for a Mount Eerie record, due to its characteristically minimal instrumentation and Elverum’s quiet singing. However, the addition of Doiron’s often dominant, clear voice gives depth and luster to the compositions, effectively adding warmth and transporting the songs to a new level of tenderness. As for the instruments employed on Lost Wisdom, Elverum says it consists of just an electric and acoustic guitar, and on one track, a broom, for “a little rhythmic crunching sound” (though a glockenspiel is detectable on “Flaming Home”).
Backed by Squire on guitar, his spare playing accentuates what the lyrics cannot. The first time listening to the minute-and-a-half tune “You Swan, Go On,” when they sing “With your hand down my throat / you held onto my heart … and so your hand on my heart / pumping blood went limp / and oh, I flied,” it feels like the listener’s chest is being excavated. The illustrative and simple lyrics exhume the listener’s own remnants of loss paired with the delicate melody and serene strumming, emphasizing the bittersweet nature of cherishing something that eventually disappears.
A few of the songs on this collection initially took shape in 2002, when Elverum, at age 24, finally fulfilled his teenage “romantic fantasy of moving somewhere where no one was near me and disappearing.” That distant somewhere was Norway, where he chose to migrate due to his fascination with the land’s mythology. He spent the winter there in a cabin, writing songs, journaling his thoughts and drawing. The journal will be published and released as a 144-page book called Dawn on November 1 (just three weeks after the release of Lost Wisdom). Recordings of the songs he wrote during that time also will be released on vinyl separately. Both Dawn and Lost Wisdom include versions of the tracks “Who?” and “Voice in Headphones,” the latter of which layers the voices of Elverum and Doiron in a nearly anthemlike refrain: “It’s not meant to be a strife / It’s not meant to be a struggle / uphill”—which Bjork fans will instantly recognize from Vespertine’s “Undo.”
Elverum’s Norwegian escape was a creatively fruitful experience. It also taught him he didn’t need to disappear; that he truly was content at home in Anacortes—even if said home could be lost or destroyed, whether by fire, as in his painting, or another natural force altogether. As the Marquis de Sade said, “Destruction, hence, like creation, is one of Nature’s mandates.”