The Microphones' most demanding album, Mount Eerie, isn't exactly the follow-up to The Glow, Pt. 2 that one might expect. Instead of offering more expansive, kaleidoscopic pop, Phil Elvrum presents a concept album about life, death, and identity that spans five epic songs. Microphones fans are used to Elvrum's artistic twists, but this album is a hairpin turn, moving into much more abstract territory than any of his previous work. The 17-minute opening track "The Sun" ( "In which the story begins, where you are born and run away from death up the mountain in fear and are watched by a ball of fire," the liner notes explain) is a perfect example. It begins with heartbeats and the heavy, tolling bells that closed The Glow, Pt. 2, and moves to layered, galloping drums and horns that sound like a race or a hunting party, which are silenced abruptly by a ghostly choir, a hesitant guitar, and Elvrum's desolate, vulnerable vocals before an explosion of distortion finishes the track. It's a hypnotic, portentous beginning, introducing the suspense and search for spirituality that dominate Mount Eerie. The album is concerned with death in all of its forms — the end of a day, of a life — not in a morbid way, but as a necessary transition or as the answer to a question (which, of course, only provokes more questions). When death finally comes on the title track, in the form of Little Wings' Kyle Field, it's as funny as it is unsettling: "I'll press you to the ground / You'll fade from where you're found." Likewise, the accompanying vultures — voiced by Karl Blau — are so cartoonishly morose that they add little more than (admittedly dark) humor to leaven the atmosphere. Vocal cameos by friends and collaborators such as Mirah, Khaela Maricich, Dennis Driscoll, Adam Forkner, and Calvin Johnson (wittily cast as the voice of the Universe) make Mount Eerie feel more like a school pageant than a concept album; this childlike wonder gives the album's sense of discovery even more impact and poignancy. "Childlike" doesn't equal simplistic, however — Mount Eerie is musically and lyrically complex within its naive viewpoint. The album's quietest and loudest moments feature subtle shifts that add to its surreal soundscapes; for example, the gusts of static that buffet the album recall not only hissing wind, but rain, snakes, and insects as well. This stream-of-consciousness approach extends to the album's songwriting as well, particularly on "Solar System," where the setting sun reminds Elvrum of a faraway girl juggling a soccer ball like a planet. Even more personal and overflowing with detail than the Microphones' other work, Mount Eerie is a truly stunning album, managing to be deeply beautiful and unnerving, as well as deeply thoughtful, without ever seeming pretentious or heavy-handed. While The Glow, Pt. 2 might still be the most perfect distillation of Elvrum's style to date, at the very least Mount Eerie proves that his ambitions and his ability to express them are growing at an exciting rate.
Years Active: '90s, '00s
The Microphones was the alias of Anacortes, WA-based lo-fi psych-pop mastermind Phil Elvrum, also known for his work as a member of K Records bands D+ and Old Time Relijun. Following a series of cassettes on the local Knw-Yr-Own label, including Wires and Cords, Tests, and a self-titled effort, the Microphones issued their first full-length effort, also titled Tests, on the Elsinor label in the autumn 1999. Don't Wake Me Up appeared on K the next summer, followed in 2000 by Window and It Was Hot... Full bio