The MICROPHONES – ” Microphones in 2020 “

Posted: December 10, 2020 in ALBUMS, MUSIC
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Once upon a time, Phil Elverum sang about swimming to the bottom of the ocean and finding beauty there. On “Microphones In 2020”, he plunged deep into his own personal history and discovered something arguably more profound. Eschewing nostalgia and solipsism as much as possible, the Mount Eerie mastermind revived his long-dormant Microphones moniker to scour that era of his life for wisdom. He came away with epiphanies about meaning, impermanence, and “the true state of all things,” wrapped up in a staggering 43-minute recording that defies categorization.

After more than a decade releasing music as Mount Eerie, Phil Elverum dusted off his moniker as the Microphones to release a single-song LP tracking a lifelong tension between his art and his enduring sense of smallness. The album or, as Elverum describes it, “This spooling-out, repetitive decades-long song string/This river coursing through my life,” is a droning dirge that expands the affecting tableaux of A Crow Looked at Me and Now Only into a nearly cradle-to-grave chronicle informed by years of travel and experiences of loss. The effect is hypnotic, as cascades of distortion nearly swallow Elverum’s voice, reminding us that he is not only an auteur of empathy, but also a humble messenger of mortality.

The last recording released under the Microphones’ name was 2003’s Mount Eerie, a precursor to Phil Elverum’s creative shift. The notion that the Microphones disbanded is something of a misconception, because even though he collaborated with other musicians on the project throughout the years, the Microphones name is really synonymous with Elverum himself. Since assuming the Mount Eerie persona, he’s proven incredibly prolific, releasing 10 studio albums under his new name between 2005 and 2019. Elverum slipped back into the Microphones for a performance last summer, and when the stirrings around this choice picked up, he began toying with “what it even means to step back into an old mode.”

The result is Microphones in 2020, the sprawling, one-track album lasting nearly 45 minutes. Microphones in 2020 contains some of the year’s best, most reflective and probing lyrics. Elverum’s mastery of language is impressive thanks to his ability to capture an intangible, fleeting feeling without coming across as pretentious or out of reach. It’s honestly worth sitting down and reading the lyrics along with the song, consuming the words as poetry. His descriptions of nature are some of the most soul-stirring moments of the album, which isn’t surprising considering his lifelong sense of unity with the flora and fauna around him. “I started making my own embarrassing early tries at this / thing that sings at night above the house, branches in the wind bending / wordlessly, I wanted to capture it on tape,” he says of his early musical intentions.

For a while, I thought that Phil Elverum had said everything he could say as Mount Eerie. The two records on which he mourned the death of his wife, Geneviève Castrée—A Crow Looked at Me and Now Only—felt like the end of a story, just as his marriage to actress Michelle Williams and concurrent move to New York City seemed to mark the beginning of a new one. But within a year, Elverum separated from Williams and returned to Anacortes, and though he didn’t retire Mount Eerie, he did something even more unexpected: He resurrected The Microphones, recording his first album (OK, an album-length song) under the moniker in 17 years. It’s one of Elverum’s most unguarded works, under any name.

To listen to Microphones in 2020 is to follow Elverum as he revisits his own mythology—making tapes as a teenager, stargazing and feeling his size after recording The Glow, Pt. 2, setting fire to the Microphones name and watching Mount Eerie rise from the ashes—and asks himself: What led me to become what I am? Does anything mean anything? His thoughts wander to the time he saw Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon in Aberdeen or ran into Will Oldham on tour in Italy, as if trying to rediscover the significance that these memories once held. But in the song’s final minutes, Elverum finds himself back at the same inconclusive conclusion he’s come to multiple times before, in his life and in the song itself: “There’s no end.” The song is over, but his search for meaning is not.

Microphones in 2020

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