Phil Elverum finds a partner in crime on his latest
By Doug Freeman,
1:23PM, Mon. Sep. 8, 2008
At a Mount Eerie show several years ago inside Emo’s, a drunken buffoon wandered to the front and summoned Phil Elverum to edge of the stage. He bent over as the guy told him something along the lines of “Your songs suck,” before stumbling back to the bar. The Anacortes, Wash. bard was unfazed. He moved back the microphone and, in true Elverum fashion, composed a one-line tune in response, strumming a few chords as he sang, “The songs I write are only for myself.”
It was an apt rejoinder. As the Microphones and Mount Eerie, Elverum has delivered wandering, solipsistic narratives that follow his own subconscious meanderings through self-examinations of doubt and ecstasy. It is what makes his music both so compellingly charming and difficult to enter into upon first listen.
Lost Wisdom, the latest offering from Mount Eerie set for release early next month on Elverum’s own P.W. Elverum & Sun imprint, is remarkable in its break from that trajectory. The songs still retain the air of lo-fi, but Lost Wisdom is also a collaboration with Canadian songstress Julie Doiron and her guitarist Fred Squire.
Lost Wisdom opens with the title track, and as Doiron sings, “lost wisdom is a quiet echo”, it seems to encapsulate the isolated introspection that has defined Elverum’s work. The two voices serenade with a disconnectedness, a play that continues marvelously throughout the album. They flirt and retreat both in harmony and sentiment, “Voice in the Headphones” pushing close to only fall apart. The struggle to either love or let go defines Wisdom, and though ultimately it’s the latter the songs seem to strive to achieve, it’s the former that they are caught in. “You Swan Go On,” “Who?,” and “What?” plea for release from love’s broken memory, but linger in the wanting of it still.
The plodding movement of songs like “Flaming Home” hits with the precise intensity of the Weird Weeds’ most subdued moments, but the most remarkable aspect of the album is how naturally Doiron slips into Elverum’s world and plays foil. Her layered lead on “If We Knew…” and the harmonies on songs like “With My Hand Out” and “O My Heart” play Elverum’s other. What has for so long been Elverum’s quiet solo musical mutterings are now given fuller shades and emotion through Doiron’s complimentary yearning from across the divide.
Lost Wisdom never resolves the tension of love’s want and repulsion, and the final track, “Grave Robbers,” may represent that dichotomy best. “Change your way of limping 'round the world because you know what will come soon, a real broken leg,” Elverum and Doiron sing, and though that recognition of memory and self-pity runs throughout, neither are able to climb out of it. “We all rob graves” Elverum sings. He’s been poignantly robbing his own for years, and now he’s found the perfect accomplice.
Mount Eerie takes on Mohawk tonight.