Review Summary: The best things in life don't come easy
Phil Elvrum, the brain behind The Microphones, doesn’t produce comfortable art, by any means. Difficulty pervades his masterpiece, be it the irritating fuzz, lack of production, or simply the length. Given the right circumstances, some
albums have a tendency to just “click” with the listener. Ears and brain and soul fuse together, and for a few moments everything seems peculiarly orderly- like the universe just mistakenly revealed one of those secrets it tries so
hard to hide. The Glow Pt. 2
is not one of these albums. Unless you’re some otherworldly music-analyzing connoisseur, chances are The Glow Pt. 2
won’t quickly strike you as an album to love unconditionally (or maybe even like, for that matter). Like the best things in life though, The Microphones’ masterpiece is equally rewarding as it is (at first) difficult. Elvrum creates music under a few monikers, and has a fairly illustrious discography, but The Glow Pt. 2
remains, without a doubt, his opus. At times it may seem purposefully off-putting, or perhaps strange for the sake of strangeness, two of the bigger sins an artist can commit, in my book. Yet, The Glow Pt. 2
remains afloat as a personal favorite of mine, for reasons some of which are latent, others nearly unexplainable. If one thing remains evident, though, it’s that Glow
, more than any other album, is perfectly distinctive of “you get out of it what you put in.” Take the time to wrap your head around the bountiful shifting and sifting, the moments of simplicity and the stages of complexities, the blankness and the emotion-wrought sections, and you have a masterpiece awaiting your ears.
In terms of sound, The Glow Pt. 2
can only be described as completely organic. Elvrum breathes life into each song. “I Want Wind to Blow” features his strikingly childlike vocals in front of sounds that range from a simple folk melody to a natural noise that can best be described as roots contorting to their threshold. As Elvrum sings blandly and bluntly with his always-poignant lyrics, “My clothes off me,/Sweep me off my feet,/Take me up and bring me back./Oh, where I can see/Days pass by me,/I have no head to hold in grief,”
the song progresses from incredibly harmonious bliss into a discordant mess, an unexpected eruption. The title track picks up right where the opener leaves off, yet develops from the banging and reverb of the last song into a folk tune and Elvrum’s touching sentiments. The main lyrical material of the album is based on depression and suicide, but Elvrum doesn’t let this limit him thematically. Instead, throughout Glow
there seems to be a dream-like quality with Elvrum’s overactive imagination to complement it well, singing stream-of-consciousness-style about mountains, rivers, or whatever he pleases- making it become meaningful and personal all at once. Simply put, it pains me to try and come up with a better duo of songs on any
album. As the title track fizzes out in style, it’s clear that The Glow Pt. 2
is truly a classic waiting to be found.
If this all sounds a bit too familiar, that’s probably because it is. In many ways, Elvrum seems to be a 21st century reincarnation of Neutral Milk Hotel brainchild, Jeff Mangum. From their ambiguous yet touching lyrics, to their fans, to the folk harmonies, to their two-of-a-kind personas, the similarities are undeniable. Yet, where Mangum created a very full, pleasing, and almost immediately-listenable album, Elvrum deviates. A few tracks in, and all of a sudden things seem to go horribly awry. “Headless Horseman,” with its vocals and lack of production, could not possibly
be any softer or quieter unless it were utter silence, making you turn the volume up two-fold and listen closely. “Mansion” and two tracks named “Something” soon follow, composed mostly of ambience, little noises here and there, culminating in a glaring, almost scary, machine-like sound in the body of the second “Something.” The endearing factor of the first few songs seems to wear off, and one of the main qualities of The Glow becomes readily apparent- the unexpectedness. The fuzz and overall lack of refined production, while becoming one of the most endearing qualities of Glow
make it very accessible, to complement the sometimes-grating, trudging feel of a few tracks. It’s rewarding though, I promise.
Consisting of 20 tracks, Elvrum artfully composes more unexpected twists and turns that you find yourself lost in his imagination, the dream-like hazy lo-fi experience that can feel nauseatingly encapsulating at times. Much of this is due to the production, one of the few overarching factors that creates a (somewhat disjunctured) flow. Difficult to describe, yet immensely important, the production of Glow
could not possibly be better, from the softness and innocence of the vocals, to the blaring horns, to the wavering feel of nearly every instrument present- like its about to fall apart with the next small breeze. The frailty of Glow comes through in every aspect, and even seems to reach its breaking point a few times when the noise goes berserk and comes crashing down like an earthquake.
The Glow Pt. 2
never comes close to reaching the orgasmic heights presented in the first two songs. Twenty tracks, one would think Elvrum would spread out the highlights. Almost every track has something special, like the juxtaposition of raging, fuzzy instrumentals and Elvrum’s soft, drawn-out vocals in “I Want to Be Cold” (one of the few tracks that comes close to the first two), but what appears to be a failure on the part of song-placement is glaringly obvious. Yet, it fits perfectly. The unexpectedness of Glow
is rarely pleasing at first, but always natural and organic, and especially special. Any other way The Microphones would have composed the album would not have been the same as it is here, and that alone is reason enough to be satisfied with the oddities on display, the hurdles of listening to and loving The Microphones. For despite similarities to Jeff Mangum or other lo-fi heroes Eric’s Trip, Glow
is a special experience, unrivaled and truly incomparable.
Chalk one up to the “creativity” category for The Microphones’ tingling, poignant, and shaky success. As tempting as it is to attribute The Glow’s
appeal to Elvrum’s lyrics, the odd mish-mash of instrumentation, or its unlistenability, or even the perfectly-placed ambient sections that send chills down your spine so effortlessly, it becomes apparent that The Microphones creation is simply unique. At its core, The Glow
is representative of what I feel is one of the most truly artistic
experiences in modern music. Elvrum’s credibility as a true artist (in the context of film, abstract, literature, any type of creative outlet to create an aesthetic) is, in my mind, one of the most convincing in music. This is due to his grand abilities to create such a mesmerizing, mysterious, and difficult artistic medium. The Glow Pt. 2
stands as evidence of an unapologetically ambitious piece, unhindered by many structural conforms and unmitigated in terms of creativity, and yet feels particularly organic. The words flowing from Elvrum give off a air if sincerity overtly comparable to the crashing cymbals, the unsettling static, or the slow acoustics. Elvrum’s opus is truly a work to behold, and it’s difficult to believe that the full effects of this modern classic have yet even begun to take hold.