Review Summary: Lost Wisdom is one of my favorite songwriters finding himself exactly where I need him to be: filling the room, the voice in headphones.
God, it’s 3 a.m. and I can’t sleep. My vision is blurry, my arms heavy, but I’m stuck, restlessly thinking
, staring at my ceiling. I put on something soft, quiet, to ease the tension a little. It’s counter-productive (sleep in silence) but the voice that fills the room is an immediate comfort. He is there, lonely and morose, calmer, wiser, a soul searching. I can feel his words trip over my cotton sheets, the floor rumbling with the quick, tender, slightly sloppy melodies.
But she’s a presence: beautiful, melancholic, strong but weary, with a frustratingly stubborn optimism that blurs the intent behind her words. “Fog obliterates the morning and I don’t know where I am / the heart is pounding and you are always on my mind,” they sing together and you can hear the space growing. “You thought you knew me / you thought our house was home,” she sings and he echoes; “I saw your picture out of nowhere / and forgot what I was doing,” he sighs and she mimics. And they reach some sort of pivotal moment when the weight behind the song shifts uncomfortably on his metaphor: “I stood in the house and tried to hold the breeze.”
I’m reminded of the first time I saw Phil Elvrum take the stage as Mount Eerie. With fog machines in tow and only his guitar by his side, a barefooted Elvrum sat center stage with a measly cloud of smoke hovering around him, laughing at his own jokes and noodling out the drone-inspired tracks that made up Black Wooden Ceiling Opening
. That Phil Elvrum feels very different from this Phil Elvrum. If The Glow Pt. 2
, the dark and surreal coming-of-age story that serves as the Microphones’ classic, was a “Before” portrait of naïve first loves then Lost Wisdom
serves as the “After,” its twenty minutes a sparse and despairing mountainside soundtrack to the inevitable pains of growing older and apart.
Julie Doiron (of Eric’s Trip, whose debut I’ve recently become infatuated with) is who really elevates Lost Wisdom
above the rest of Elvrum’s post-Microphones discography: she creates another palpable character in this new chapter of a never-ending story, and with the help of Fred Squire on guitar, Lost Wisdom
becomes a near masterpiece.
There are moments on the album that could match the year’s big indie heavyweight, Bon Iver, like the chorus that pulls the dense “Voice in Headphones” forward or the clever misdirection of the more upbeat “You Swan, Go On.” But each track on Lost Wisdom
feels full-bodied and important, none more so than “O My Heart” that echoes the drifting electric chords that pervaded The Glow Pt. 2
. “What I find will be found easily / and only when I’m not looking for it,” they state forcefully in the song’s intro, strumming for emphasis on the words that dangle at the end. Doiron is a highlight continually on Lost Wisdom
, here in “O My Heart” and again in “Flaming Home,” a song that feels structured on her lovely range.
Squire helps to mount these stories and it’s this that makes Lost Wisdom
last. The moody reverb that washes “Who?” mirrors the pair’s frustrating fall out (“What do I want with my life now you’re gone? / I want your ghosts gone”) and the arpeggios that drip out of “If We Knew…” give Doiron’s doe-eyed performance a dreamy quality. When “Grave Robbers” brings Lost Wisdom
to its moment of acceptance, one these two have earned, it’s the simple nature of the song that rings truest.
So here, yes, 3 a.m., listening to an album that almost didn’t happen and took three days to complete, and I can’t fall asleep. But I listen to Lost Wisdom
and I feel better because, with a little help and push in the right direction by two game musicians, this is one of my favorite songwriters finding himself exactly where I need him to be: filling the room, the voice in headphones.