Review Summary: An evocative, engaging album that weaves an excellent atmosphere.
I don't usually listen to albums on a whim without any prior knowledge of it or the band, but when I saw the mysterious landscape of the album cover to Mount Eerie's 'Clear Moon' sticking out on the Sputnik homepage, I had to give it a whirl. Formed after mainman Phil Elvrum’s choice to discontinue working under his original moniker The Microphones, Mount Eerie can be most accurately described as slow, morose indie folk, but the project has since progressed into something much more than your average indie singer-songwriter.
Eerie’s 6th full length Clear Moon is heavily reliant on atmosphere, which perhaps reflects Elvrum’s notable love for black metal music (a genre largely characterized by a focus on mood and atmosphere). Elvrum specifically cited Burzum as an influence, and while black metal as a whole may superficially seem worlds away from Eerie’s subdued ambiance, subtle similarities become apparent starting with the second two songs, “the Place I Lives” and “the Place I live”. The first thing that popped into my head was interestingly the first track on black metal band Wolves in the Throne Room’s Two Hunters album, “The Clearing”. Both create dense atmospheres that are airy and earthy at the same time; they recall visions of the Cascadian landscapes of the Pacific Northwest (WITTR also come from Washington) - cool, swirling mist tickling your face from a great forest waterfall.
“Lone Bell” takes a turn for the eerie (no pun intended, I promise) – ephemeral percussion swirls and dances left to right, like spirits that appear in the corner of your eye, but disappear the second you turn your head. The song shines, swirls, and builds until it becomes a subdued cacophony, disappearing as sudden as it appeared. In “Over Dark Water”, female vocals marry liturgical grandeur with an apocalyptic sense of loss. “Clear Moon” continues the melancholy exhibited in the previous track, with sadly discordant keyboards layered over distant, crashing percussion. Few albums in recent memory arrest and engage quite like Clear Moon does at its expressive best.
Despite Elvrum’s wicked talent at crafting effective mood and atmosphere, it must be noted that Clear Moon is not song-oriented in the way the unfortunate “indie folk” genre tag implies. The music flows with little formal structure – terms such as “verse” and “chorus” do not apply here, and while I try to have faith in the open-mindedness of people in general, Clear Moon’s relative formlessness may bore those who desire something more traditional (they may want to give a listen to Mount Eerie’s earlier, folkier albums in that case). The album largely strays away from the focus on lyrics and storytelling of previous albums, a direction that may not sit well with those who fell in love with Elvrum’s lyrical intimacy on albums such as Dusk or Lost Wisdom. With the exception of opener “Through the Trees pt. 2”, Elvrum’s airy voice is sparsely included in the arrangements and is mostly buried in the mix when they pop up – a direction that won’t bother lovers of the surrounding music, but will annoy those not so convinced.
The music carries formidable evocative power throughout (most of) the remainder of the album, making Clear Moon a massive success in its goal of creating a tangible atmosphere that unlocks the imagination and (at least for this listener) gushes with panache and emotional resonance, even if some listeners may find its ambiance uninspiring.