January 30, 2003

Test Spin: The Microphones

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Always inventive and forward-thinking, Phil Elvrum of the Microphones has for several years been regarded as a genius of lo-fi recording. That reputation culminated with 2001’s The Glow, Pt. 2, widely regarded as his masterpiece. With Mt. Eerie, Elvrum has only cemented his reputation even further. A broad concept album tackling Mortality and Life through metaphors about Nature and Space (Phil’s the kind of guy who embraces Concepts with a capital C), this record is a daring departure from the Microphones sound.

Mt. Eerie opens with an atmospheric evocation of “The Sun,” introduced with staticky ambience and tribal drumming before Elvrum sings his first lines 10 minutes into the album. Throughout, his voice is clear and up-front, often accompanied just by plucked acoustic guitar and lively rhythmic undercurrents. As usual, a host of Olympia scenesters join Elvrum; Karl Blau and Little Wings frontman Kyle Field even contribute their own self-written parts to the title track. Though Field’s hip-hop parody drastically disrupts the album’s flow, the rest of the guests only add to the atmosphere.

Calvin Johnson, as the Universe, delivers one deep-voiced line and ghostly backing growls to two songs each called “Universe,” and songstress Mirah has a heartbreaking duet with Phil on “Solar System.” The highlight of the album, of course, is Phil himself. His lyrics are more nakedly emotional than ever before, and it’s his unique vision that makes Mt. Eerie such an affecting and beautiful record.

Archived article by Ed Howard