Mount Eerie – Clear Moon
Mount Eerie’s Phil Elverum has spent the last decade refining his take on chamber pop for the forest. There’s been a long-running consensus that The Glow Pt. 2 by his previous project The Microphones was a bit of a masterpiece. Though no single release by his current project has reached the same level critical acclaim, Mount Eerie’s following has remained steady. Clear Moon, built on subdued and ornate vocals, guitars, synths and strings, doesn’t break the arc set by previous releases and still creates a fairly singular vision of rural Washington.
Elverum touches on George Berkeley-type philosophical musings on ‘the Place I Live’ with, “If I look / Or if I don’t look / The clouds are always passing over”. The bass notes that open the song come across like the footsteps of the protagonist approaching a certain place, or the ominous approach of unknown presence. The organic touch is particularly noticeable in the way they soften after the first couple of bars as if to not draw attention to themselves. It conjures wonder or dread.
This kind of walk-in-the-woods imagery is a dreadfully blunt way to describe a Mount Eerie track, but so much of Elverum’s material has depended on evoking mystery in the outside world. Strings and percussion carry the song but it peaks when Elverum is joined by several tracks of female vocals – another presence after several minutes of contemplating and approaching. This duality runs deeper and into Clear Moon’s exploration of the mysteries of the intangible world as well as nature itself.
Elsewhere the album makes use of deeper, more resonant bass sounds, as well as brass on ‘Lone Bell’ and a krautrock-style motorik beat on ‘House Shape’. Elverum has always had little trouble assimilating different sounds and styles into Mount Eerie – his previous takes on black metal ended that argument. And they’re usually seamless, even though you notice them there they don’t seem out of place. Making them interesting is another matter though. Clear Moon like previous releases undoubtedly has its own world, but the songs often fail to make that world an engaging place. This will mean nothing to the converted, but despite the meanings, parallels, invocations and occasionally lovely harmonic embellishments the songs often fail to live up to their potential. There are so many elements to the album that sound better on paper than in the presence of the tracks themselves.
It might not be appropriate to discuss Mount Eerie purely in terms of songs, but the problems with Clear Moon reoccur when the sounds and atmosphere don’t quite carry you into Elverum’s universe and it all becomes being a strange thing to look at. Deep and rich production wouldn’t be essential to conjure the feelings sought by the album, but when you’re not beckoned in the textures feel a little flat and distant – it’s not so much you that you’re lost in the woods but that you can’t find your way in.
That aside there are moments and ideas that work like the opener ‘Through the Trees Pt 2’ or ‘Over Dark Water’, and to anyone that liked previous Mount Eerie releases, this is one of the better ones. It’s just that sometimes the solitary existential loneliness and contemplation ends up alienating. It isolates not because it’s well orchestrated but because it isn’t always compelling.