Review Summary: Phil Elvrum's 66 minutes of cold, dark winter in the form of a beautiful work of musical art.
The overall feel of an album is usually considered on the first listen. So goes the tired and true formula of listening, appreciating, and re-listening as many times as one sees pleasurable. However, with The Glow pt.2 one will likely be hard pressed to appreciate, or even remotely enjoy this subtle masterpiece at first. Admittedly, I listened to this album after hearing the hype and hated it. I felt it was a mess of noise that was too layered, repetitive, and drawn out. There were no moments that captured me, or even remotely left me excited other than the opening strums of the first track. I put it to rest and let it sit, unused, in my iTunes Library and did not contemplate giving it another listen until I saw that it was the very album that I had cast away so foolishly that managed to make the #10 spot on the Staff’s Top 100 of the Decade list. I couldn’t believe it. I had heard, and focused, but I was not captivated, and I automatically thought of a million different albums more deserving of that Top 10 place. After raking my brain for a good 30 minutes regarding the Staff’s decision, I began to play The Glow pt. 2 yet again. I was not fascinated, taken aback, breathless, or any other adjectives that could describe listening to a Top 10 album. This question did not die down, and I found that the more I listened, the more I enjoyed it.
Now, even though The Glow pt.2 has always been described as a “grower album” and I am really not bringing anything new to the table, a thing to know about this album is that it can only be fully appreciated conditionally. It is completely suited for the winter months. To listen to this album when it is 95 degrees outside will not do it justice at all as many of the tracks atmospherically focus on the harsh drear of winter. To test to this album quietly will also diminish its potential. There are plenty of subtleties that cannot go unnoticed to see the true beauty of The Glow pt.2, and I think it goes without saying that this must be taken in completely. To play something as musically complex and deep as The Glow pt.2 as background music is nothing short of a crime. To truly absorb this album, one must be prepared for 66 minutes of depth, dreariness, and subtle elegance.
Musically, this album is usually a mess. There seems to be no true continuity between the instruments, and Phil Elvrum’s calm, yet pained voice seems to float over the disjointed music that sounds so entrancing. In “I’ll Not Contain You,” Elvrum begins with a loosely jumbled guitar hook, layered over other guitar hooks, layered over even more guitar hooks. Even though this sounds like a recipe for disaster, it manages to pull together quite nicely, and creates a wonderful track. It also fills the listener with anxiousness and a horrible sense of dread, a byproduct of this style of grim art. In other cases, the music is nothing more than a simple drum beat, piano hook, or guitar progression under a thick layer of static. However, under this static usually lies a musical masterpiece. This is most evident in “Samurai Sword” where the haze and static drowns out an otherwise generically great song. This is not Elvrum’s aim though, as the static adds a haunting level of atmosphere that adds to the purpose of the work as a whole. In other instances, there is nothing but traditional instrumentation with folk influences, such as in “The Gleam pt.2” where a pounding drum beat mirrors a bass line, matched with a hurdy-gurdy. Regardless of what approach Elvrum chooses to take on a particular song, every track contains the same kind of chill, and he contains the uniform atmosphere wonderfully on this album.
Most qualms with this album revolve around the few tracks that drag. This could be common because of the album’s early climax within the first 3 tracks. At first, I thought the entire album dragged, but after fully appreciating it I can not say that there is a dull moment. Admittedly, there are some tracks that are not as exciting as others, but they still contain a certain subtle beauty, and without them, the album would lack the sense of fulfillment that it contains. Even the ambience at the end of “My Warm Blood” is a vital part to the completion of the album, even though on paper it is a 5-minute section of droning static and a repetitive tone.
Phil Elvrum’s design behind The Glow pt.2 was flawless. Every chord played seems to fit so well, even though it sounds so disjointed and messy. Every lyric seems to fit extremely well into the album’s grand scheme. Every piece of ambience seems so chilling and haunting, it establishes a sense of fear within the listener. Above all else though, this is definitely an album that is worth the time it demands. To fully grasp The Glow pt.2 is a sense of realization that is hardly matched within music. It is the only album I have ever listened to that I have swayed my opinion completely on, and it is the only album that has the power to frighten, amaze, and humble me all at the same time. Your time is worth it. Trust me.