Mt. Eerie at the UVa Chapel!

October 23rd, 2009 · 4 Comments · By

First of all, I wanted to note that the Sarah White and the Pearls show, originally scheduled for the Garage this evening, is Not Happening. Sarah apparently had a conflicting gig in Texas; so we wish her luck with that, and I’m looking forward to hearing the new Pearls line-up when they re-debut in Cville. I’m unclear as to whether she’s still on the bill for the Bridge show tomorrow…

Actually, it’s almost a relief that the garage show tonight has been postponed, just because there’s SO much going on this week. For instance, the big show tonight is Mount Eerie at the Uva Chapel!

Doors are at 8pm sharp (and that’s basically when the music starts, too), the openers are Tara Jane O’Neil and No Kids (neither of whom I’m not familiar with), as well as my friend Stephen Steinbrink, who was supposed to play with Dark Meat last night, but a car-engine breakdown prevented them from getting here until 1am (but he’s here now, and we may not let him leave…)

I’m really excited about this show for a number of reasons; although I’ve been a big fan for years, I’ve never actually seen Phil Elvrum play, and in fact I actually avoided doing so on several occasions… Well, let me start at the beginning. Mount Eerie is the current project of Phil Elvrum, who used to work under the name The Microphones, which was basically the same thing. (He was also in Old Time Relijun and D+, back in the 90’s.) I originally got into his work because he produced the first two Mirah albums; the Microphones material is less immediately accessible, but ultimately more worthwhile and interesting, to my ears.

In fact, there’s that trilogy of the last three proper Microphones albums; 1999’s “Don’t Wake Me Up,” 2000’s  “It Was Hot, We Stayed in the Water,” and 2002’s “The Glow, pt 2” — all three are superbly excellent records that I would unreservedly recommend.  The cheap, somehow-elegant, raucous lo-fi triumph of “Don’t” gave way to the wider vision and sparse, disassembled epic of “It Was Hot,” and “Glow pt 2” is just an unparalleled masterpiece, which is both epic and intimate, loud and gentle, weird and handmade yet totally triumphant and successful and great. Elvrum was never afraid to get totally dissonant or abstract, but the gentle falsetto singing always tied everything together and made it presentable, and the lyrics always had this weird Romantic obsession with weather, nature, life & death etc which was really sort of unique and kept his songs from just being another whiny indie-rock mopefest (although he did write several excellent breakup songs, and some solid mix-tape love-letter fodder as well). And instrumentally, you could always hear exactly what went into the songs, the ingredients were just like a million other bedroom 4-track projects, but somehow the results were always far, far greater than the sum of their parts.

I didn’t go to see him play at any of those Tokyo Rose shows, or the other times he played at the Chapel, (or even the times he played LA) simply because I was just SO into the way those early records sounded, that I was afraid just hearing one guy with an acoustic guitar would somehow break the spell and keep me from enjoying his music in the future. It’s kind of silly and stupid, but that’s why I’ve never seen Phil Elvrum play. (Oddly enough, I did catch a short set by his wife at Thanky last year; she plays under the name Woelv, and her music is great, and she’s really sweet and makes great art prints, too.) But I’m excited to see him tonight. I really like his new record, he’s playing with a full band, and it’s time for me to finally see Mount Eerie.

Anyhow, I have to admit that for a long time I wasn’t all that crazy about the Mount Eerie stuff; starting with the last Microphones album (which was called Mount Eerie, before he made that the band-name), it sounded like he was pushing the “epic” aspect of he music really hard, to the point where it sort of overwhelmed all the other qualities that were so good about it; the records he’s done under the new moniker (there’s a whole bunch, I’ve only heard 2 or 3) have been far more minimal, morose, and even lethargic. His voice sounded sadder, weaker, and lower in the mix; the big bursts of energy and sound were gone, as were the memorable songs.  It’s not that those records are necessarily bad, just that they lack so much of what I liked about his earlier material. As much as people joked at the time about the silliness of changing your band name when you’re largely a one-man-band, in a way it was appropriate; it marked a pretty big stylistic turning point.

Then I heard some time last year that Phil Elvrum was making a Black Metal record.  Which sounded really interesting. I’ve been listening to a fair amount of Black Metal over the past two years (Burzum, Immortal, Darkthrone, and especially newer US stuff like Xasthur and Leviathan), but that aesthetic is SO different from Elvrum’s stuff; mostly I was just interested to see what the heck it would sound like.

Turns out it actually kinda makes sense. There are more similarities than you would think, from the interest in natural settings and themes, the focus on handmade DIY ethics, and the fixations with coldness and death. “Wind’s Poem” is certainly not something that’s gonna win over any purity-obsessed metalheads any time soon, but it’s also not an artistic embarrassment to Elvrum (which it easily could have been), nor is it a cheap attempt at bandwagon-jumping. It’s a record that manages to lean heavily into the Black-Metal aesthetic, but it synthesizes that with Elvrum’s own sound and it fits together weirdly well. The standout tracks are obviously the three or four with thick, heavy guitars and distorted drumming (especially “Mouth of Sky” and “Lost Wisdom”), but even the quiet, spooky tracks in-between are given weight and purpose by the overall sense of menace and darkness. The weak, falsetto singing is still there, but the sense of weighted intimacy that grab’s this listener’s attention has been restored. It’s not necessarily accurate to say that Elvrum’s music has been “re-energized” by this aesthetic shift; it’s more like it’s just gotten louder and heavier, and brought in a set of stylistic conventions in which being lethargic and morose is actually part of the appeal.

Anyhow, it’s his best record in quite some time, and I urge you to check it out. It’s made me doubly excited for the show tonight. See you there?

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4 responses so far ↓

  • 1 baconfat // Oct 24, 2009 at 2:07 am

    tl; dr.

  • 2 horsefang // Oct 24, 2009 at 6:18 pm

    Dude! Tara Jane O’Neil was the bass player in RODAN!, RETSIN and THE SONORA PINE! She plays everything and rips. Fantastic musician. The family tree that sprouts from RODAN is daunting, awesome and immense.

    Sadly, this show was on my mom’s birthday, so i had to split town for the weekend and miss the show. I hope a bunch of people got there early enough to hear TJO play.

  • 3 gary // Oct 26, 2009 at 2:18 am

    not great, but they’re something. i’ll have hd footage on youtube eventually, i’ll link that here.

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