The Microphones - Microphones in 2020 Music Album Reviews

Phil Elverum resurrects his beloved Microphones alias for a 44-minute song about art-making, self-mythologizing, and the endless search for meaning. 

Before he borrowed the name of the mountain that looms over his hometown of Anacortes, Washington, Phil Elverum wrote and performed songs as the Microphones, named in tribute to his recording equipment, which seemed to breathe and swell with a life of its own. In the summer of 2019, 16 years after the project’s last proper release, Elverum exhumed this moniker for a show filled with old friends. As he writes now, the performance—and the internet’s subsequent elation—raised some existential quandaries about past identities and “self-commemoration.” Over the course of a year, Elverum coalesced these thoughts into Microphones in 2020, a 44-minute song about many things, including artmaking, self-mythologizing, and what it means to bear witness to one’s own existence and transformations.
Elverum’s art has always tackled complex trains of thought. The Microphones’ music tended to do so on a cosmic scale, gazing out at the natural world for meaning. Elverum veered away from these wide-eyed tendencies following the death of his wife, the multi-disciplinary artist Geneviève Castrée, in 2016. “Conceptual emptiness was cool to talk about/Back before I knew my way around these hospitals” he sang on the album recorded very soon after. Since then, his solo work under the Mount Eerie moniker has been rooted in plainspoken specificity. But as Elverum has made clear over the years, the titles that separate his projects are irrelevant because the questions he pursues have remained the same. “...Every song I’ve ever sung is about the same thing: standing on the ground looking around, basically,” he sings here. “If there have to be words, they could just be/‘now only’ and ‘there’s no end.’”

Though Microphones in 2020 looks back at a specific moment when Elverum was finding his footing as a young musician, it carries the weight of every experience he’s had since. The skeletal two-chord melody that carries the song evokes his stark compositions of recent years but is punctuated by bursts of analog noise, calling back to earlier experimentations. (The strumming itself echoes the opening of 2000’s It Was Hot, We Stayed in the Water.) He channels the wonder of his youth as if no time has passed, exalting the sublimity of waterfalls, rainstorms, and crashing waves. “We’d go up on the roof at night and actually contemplate the moon,” he murmurs, in quiet awe at the purity of these practices. “My friends and I trying to blow each others’ minds just lying there gazing, young and ridiculous and we meant it, our eyes watering.” His voice is steady, his gaze unflinching. He is kind to this version of himself, the soft kid who saw meaning and metaphor in everything.

Elverum imbues these memories of constant experimentation with undeniable romance. “When you’re younger every single thing vibrates with significance,” he sings. “Gazing at the details in the artwork of a 7", devouring every word in a zine, there was barely internet/Meaning gets attributed wherever appetite bestows a thing with resonating glowing ringing out through a life.” (To that end, a significant and delightful chunk of the song is dedicated to a revelatory screening of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon at a dollar theater in Aberdeen.) But even as he sprinkles references to the work that would blossom from these rushes of inspiration, Elverum never falls prey to the wistfulness that so often accompanies nostalgia. “The beast of uninvited change,” as he calls it, always makes itself known no matter how much we will it away.

The line Elverum traces through his life is not a linear one. His thoughts skip around in time and space, from the big picture to minute detail, tethered only by the hypnotic guitar melody, but sometimes that, too, slips away. New textures arise, occasionally drowning everything else out: distorted basslines, cavernous drums, amp hiss, harmonious overdubs, and glimmers of fuzzy tape deck ghosts. At one point, after Elverum dives down into the center of a lake, everything dissolves into a dazzling, mysterious shimmer fully embodying the beauty of an earlier line: “Extravagant solitude invigorates.” Then, the double-tracked chords return and the song rumbles back to life: nothing stays the same.

Near the end of Microphones in 2020, Elverum recalls running into the touring outfit of Bonnie “Prince” Billy in a parking lot in Italy. The band, he casually notes, was wearing matching tracksuits, “a kind of Italian tour costume.” It’s a delightful, mundane image, the sort of observation that other songwriters might find superfluous, but one that—like noting the exact date of that Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon showing—does the heavy lifting of making an already detailed world even more vivid.

The memory of this encounter kicks off a line of inquiry that doubles as the song’s coda: What is the root of this lifelong pursuit of creativity? Why is Elverum driven to make “wild swipes at meaning”? His tendency to play with words and poke around for significance started in childhood, Elverum explains here. But was it nature or nurture that has led him to “blur the boundary between myself and the actual churning dirt of this place, that it feels normal to me to speak with the voice of weather”? He touches on the bizarre power and privilege of being an artist, especially one with a platform.

“When I took my shirt off in the yard I meant it, and it’s still off,” Elverum declares in the song’s closing minutes. Elverum devotees will recognize this as a direct allusion to the title track of the Microphones’ most beloved record, 2001’s The Glow Pt. 2. But it’s what comes next that transcends any familiarity with Elverum’s catalog: “I’m still standing in the weather looking for meaning in the giant meaningless days of love and loss repeatedly waterfalling down and the sun relentlessly rises still.” “Meaning” and “meaningless”: these words appear again and again across Microphones in 2020 and Elverum’s discography at large. There are no easy answers in life; some questions will always remain unresolved. But there is a great and terrible beauty in this universal, timeless uncertainty.
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About Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera

Hey, I'm Perera! I will try to give you technology reviews(mobile,gadgets,smart watch & other technology things), Automobiles, News and entertainment for built up your knowledge.
The Microphones - Microphones in 2020 Music Album Reviews The Microphones - Microphones in 2020 Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on Friday, August 14, 2020 Rating:

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