Review Summary: On Mount Eerie's first album, Phil Elverum places himself in alone in the wilderness in an attempt to figure out who he is.
For an insomniac, waiting for sunrise can be a strenuous task. Nevertheless, it provides the opportunity to come to terms with the inner psyche, to fathom one's identity. With Phil Elverum, however, identity has never crystallized. A man unsure of himself and the world around him, Elverum has become a distinguished songwriter, working under the moniker of the Microphones and now the recording project of Mount Eerie. His debut LP as Mount Eerie, entitled "No Flashlight": Songs of the Fulfilled Night
, gives rise to equivocation, distancing himself from modern society for the sake of self-discovery, something that gives no hint of resolution.
Musically, No Flashlight
procures little ornamentation. Mount Eerie's presentation hinges on lo-fi production and disregards the natural inclination for elaboration. Many unbridled collisions occur between the instruments, prompting amassed distortion and feedback. It's difficult to tell which instances are accidental and which are contrived, but the turbid effects they have are certainly disorienting. The medley of instruments retain the image of a kinetic environment, yet Phil's voice sticks to a constant formula, employing a coy and feeble vibe in his expression. Pinpointing his state of mind through his voice alone is almost impossible due to his pallid tone, so he utilizes the instruments around him to set the mood, whether he is sacrificing himself to the appetite of his surroundings on the combustible song "The Moan" or bemoaning his own solitude on "I Know No One". No Flashlight
takes advantage of its volatility and hurls the listener into a place where time moves more slowly than the world that spins around it.
Phil's oblique lyrics align perfectly with his demure articulation. He attempts to bury his lonesome spirit beneath an interaction with nature. "(2 Mountains)" is one of three segments on the album on which he pauses to describe parts of his environment that bewilder and fascinate him. He even compares himself to a mountain on the self-reflexive "What I Actually Am". We find him in a state of limbo, spending a night in the wilderness just trying to survive until morning. Songs like "The Universe Is Shown" push him to the brink of insanity with lines like "There's no way you will get out of it." The question becomes: what is trapping Phil in this place? Is the antagonistic environment restraining him or is Phil imposing this force on himself? Many tracks on No Flashlight
tend to meander, but their short average lengths prevent them from straying too far. Furthermore, Mount Eerie recycles many sounds and elements across the album, such as the skittish maracas or the ruffled croons that crawl behind the lead vocals. Sometimes it pulls the listener back in, but other times this rehashing can be somewhat boring and underwhelming.
Phil Elverum often sounds like he is placing himself amongst a tribal gathering, but by the end of the album it seems like he has simply been talking to himself the entire time. Isolation can indeed lead to madness. As a result, tracks like "I Hold Nothing" and "The Air In the Morning" represent a dissatisfaction with his own life. However, on "How?" he accepts his fate and surrenders to the allure of the landscape he has so dearly fallen in love with. "How?" is the most revealing and potent track on the album since it seems to encapsulate what No Flashlight
is really about
: being lost in life and getting through it alone.
That being said, the ambiguity on No Flashlight
far outweighs the coherence. No Flashlight
's fault may be its indulgence, sometimes losing grasp of the edginess that makes it so interesting in the first place. A few tracks don't bring anything impactful to the sound aside from frivolous haziness. However, other moments like the gleaming riff on "Stop Singing", add plenty more color to the scene. For all its bold exploration, No Flashlight
never completely takes form. Phil incorporates some very unusual ideas as he ventures into unfamiliar territory, but since the album is fairly succinct, many songs never coalesce into anything comprehensible. No Flashlight
is an impressive LP; there's just not much to learn from it.
could be a large metaphor for being astray without guidance, but regardless of its meaning, the album gives Phil Elverum the room to wander. Mount Eerie presents coarse, lo-fi music behind a shield of abstract symbolism and societal withdrawal. Elverum spends the entire album scrutinizing who he is and who he is meant to be. While the music never reaches a climax, Mount Eerie leaves the listener feeling like he or she just went through something utterly strange and inexplicable once it's all over. After hearing this album many times, it's safe to say that Phil has gone all "Colonel Kurtz" on us.
What I Actually Am
The Air In the Morning
I Hold Nothing