Review Summary: Modern classic.
The brainchild of one Phil Elvrum, The Glow Pt. 2
is a stark, desolate, and beautiful classic caught in a post-In the Aeroplane Over the Sea millennium. The emotional ramblings of an awkward romantic filtered through a fuzzy and erratic home recording, Glow
was a distant and inaccessible beast upon its release, left open to interpretation as either a staggering work of genius storytelling (interpreted here as a suicide and its repercussions, stuck in an out of order timeline) or empty, shallow metaphors. What Glow
can’t be pegged down as is predictable.
Six years later, the album still holds this distinction, here widened to a two-disc set containing the original in its robust, gritty glory and a full-length’s worth of b-sides. Starting with the low, breathless march and acoustic strum of “I Want Wind to Blow,” Elvrum lays out the groundwork for Glow
in one fell swoop, twisting the cracks and jolts of his song and voice into a dreary melody. “There is no hope for me,” he sings before the chord tightens and he lets the song turn into a forceful and climaxing instrumental, released with an explosion of noise and grain that becomes the album’s steamroller title-track. It’s an odd trick that Elvrum plays here, letting the album’s most immediately striking and brilliant tracks kick the album into gear, the trio ending with the hustle of rumbles, hidden horns, and aching acoustic strains in “The Moon,” a cold blanket over Elvrum’s whisper.
But there’s a dreary sort of genius to be found in the way the muted “Headless Horseman” feels like the campfire story its title derives from, in the layers of guitars and bass drums that push and shove in “I’ll Not Contain You,” and in the way that Elvrum feels less like a musician than a mad ringleader to his own circus (it should be noted here that any comparison to Jeff Mangum is warranted). In tracks like the tribal swagger of “The Gleam Pt. 2,” he almost lets the sound get away from him before slowly reeling it back in. Elvrum could be improvising any number of tracks here with the way melodies threaten to disembody themselves from Elvrum’s control (the soft loops and entangled snares of “My Roots Are Strong and Deep”), but this does nothing but strengthen the gravity at Glow
’s core and the cracked protagonist that resides there. What else is there to make of the hardened industrial edge of “I Want to be Cold,” where Elvrum cranks up the reverb and kicks his vocals to shambles, or the switch from the untouched acoustics of “I Felt Your Shape” to the hollow, static-drenched “Samurai Sword”?
When “My Warm Blood” quietly and hopefully wraps up not two minutes into its full nine-minute frame, a faint heartbeat slowly pulsates on before finally, abruptly, coming to a halt, only to reappear in the album’s final closing moments. This direction of substance-is-style is what will make or break Glow
for first time listeners and what creates a sense of new discovery with every listen, and that makes Glow
a perfect album to broaden and reflect on. With the second disc (which Elvrum recorded in full only last year), Elvrum has created an almost essential companion piece to the original, a grab bag of tweaks, sequels, and new material. He dutifully switches between lovely and damaged, channeling both in the soft rock, AM-radio opener, “Where Lies My Tarp,” building reverb before finding harmony in a Sufjan-inspired set piece. These new tracks are worth noticing alone, breaking up the redux in spurts of fresh storytelling. The tellingly titled “I Hope You Wish You’d Die” is almost too cheerful for its touchy subject matter (“I wish you didn’t exist,” Elvrum concedes at a point), while “I’m Like You, Tree” brings Elvrum back to Earth, the song almost completely void of instruments.
The reduxes, though, end up being the most interesting specimens of the whole double-disc release, ranging from the blatantly obvious to the brilliantly inspired. “I Felt My Size” gets reworked here as purely acoustic, while “I Want Wind to Blow” is upturned into a percussion driven march of ruffles and clanks. “The Moon” is treated to an organ rehash, saddled with more prominent horns and atmospheric resonance. With the added incentive of a feminine touch, as in “Lanterns,” Elvrum brings a touch of sweet vulnerability that wraps around to those featured in the original’s “Map.” But it’s “The Glow Pt. 2” that get the most arresting transformations, with “The Glow Pt. 2 (Sequel)” literally correlating with its title. Just under two-minutes, Elvrum stretches the original's first thirty seconds to encompass the running time, as Elvrum restates, and then fumbles, the lyrics: “I took my shirt off in the yard / but too deliberately / It was a mistake to rely / on having my treasures seen.”
Which brings to focus the real meat and grit of Glow
: its lyrics. Without a set course or theme, Elvrum is free to ramble delicately in any direction. He begins where it ends with “I Want Wind to Blow:” “The thunder clouds broke up / the rain dried up / the lightning let up / the clacking shutters just shut up.” In bursts of imagery, there are signs of concrete anguish (in “The Glow Pt. 2,” he states with venom: “I’m not dead; there’s no end”). Though it’s never quite clear where Elvrum is coming from, his ambiguity gives Glow
its universal appeal, turning tales like that of the Headless Horseman into a tale of an imploding relationship (“I miss my closest friend / and now I cling to rocks and wind / It’s a precious thing we lost”). “I Felt Your Shape” is unexpectedly affecting, strung upon Elvrum’s soft, alluring voice (“I hung around your neck independently / and my loss was overwhelmed by this new depth I don’t think I ever felt”). But it’s “The Moon” that truly throttles, confusing fantasy with reality in a night above the city: “We walked around and stayed up late under city lights / I spent the night next to you in the house where you grew up / Next to you I miraculously woke up.”
Praise or not, Elvrum’s eponymous release won’t always be an easy listen. Glow
’s lo-fi production can be damning and obtrusive, while his stream-of-consciousness can be frustrating. But even in its original form, and especially here as a broadened masterpiece, The Glow Pt. 2
is a resounding success that unfolds and grows with each respective listen. As the soothing and feminine coos of “The Moooon” bring the album to a fitting end, it cements The Glow Pt. 2
’s place as the moving, modern classic it is.