Phil Elverum’s music is a constantly evolving force. Some aspects remain constant—primarily Elverum himself, and his humble everyman voice, lost within the cavernous noise or silence that his songs carry in spades. Yet he went from using the moniker The Microphones to switching over to Mount Eerie, and has seen his music take on numerous shapes, often hinging upon the two elements that frequently mark its uniqueness: noise and silence. In 2008, Elverum presents further exploration into Mount Eerie’s ambiguous direction with two albums—Dawn, a lost album of sorts dating back to 2003, and Lost Wisdom, a collaboration with Julie Doiron and guitarist Fred Squire.
For Elverum, collaboration is all part of his ever-evolving vehicle. The Microphones, in particular, often involved a revolving cast of collaborators, but with Lost Wisdom, Elverum, Doiron and Squire are the primary players, with songs rarely building to more than a three person arrangement of guitar and voice, leaving an intimate and haunted space, wherein introspection is a shared activity. Elverum’s often deeply personal songs are given a second voice from which to expand, to create a musical relationship that represents Elverum stepping outside of himself, in a manner of speaking. While the imagery and message are often dark, it’s this sweet harmonic relationship that adds a certain sense of comfort.
The songs on Lost Wisdom, are bare—chillingly so. At times it seems there’s almost too little, but it’s their starkness that makes them so affecting, so powerful. Elverum and Doiron’s voices embrace and glide alongside one another, sounding both distant and comforted by one another, simultaneously. Squire’s guitars play a minimal role, ringing gently beneath the sweet vocal harmonization, playing an unobtrusive, yet elegant backdrop. On “Voice in Headphones,” a slightly distorted guitar plays a quietly forceful melody beneath a borrowed Björk lyric: “It’s not meant to be a strife/ it’s not meant to be a struggle uphill.” “You Swan, Go On” even features the slightest bit of percussion beneath its relatively upbeat melody, making it a brief but beautiful foray into more accessible terrain. Yet it’s counteracted by “Flaming Home,” a melancholy song about a burning home, featuring one of the more devastating lines here: “let’s get out of the romance.”
Lost Wisdom isn’t so much like a typical Mount Eerie album, in that it’s far more stripped down, capturing a session that seems almost unfinished. Its sparseness is breathtaking, and its songs are as gorgeous as Elverum has ever written. But maybe it’s dangerous to try to pin down, exactly, just what a Mount Eerie album is—after all, the definition seems to change each time a new one comes along.
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.