Review Summary: my body stopped moving and quickly got cold, made my escape through an exhale in lungs, and watched my body rise away
Phil Elvrum is one of those artists out there that truly deserves to be branded as a genius. His work under both of his monikers--The Microphones and Mount Eerie, for those people out there that don’t listen to good music--is excellent and transcending throughout, his distinguishable layered “fuzz-folk” sound staying mostly the same from record to record, but never tiring and remaining always poignant and brilliant. He reached his peak with The Glow pt. 2
, a lengthy, somber work that gathered all of the experimentation explored on previous releases and mashed it with Elvrum’s best songwriting to date, creating a sort of modern classic. The transition from unknown to indie hero wasn’t something that happened suddenly, however. Albums previous to The Glow pt. 2
escalate in quality, and it’s no coincidence that Elvrum’s next best album happens to be his masterwork’s predecessor.
It Was Hot, We Stayed in the Water
is often overshadowed by the album that would follow it, but there’s many moments on this more condensed and as equally lush package that match or transcend anything on The Glow pt. 2
. Chief of these would have to be the centerpiece of the album, the noisy, experimental suite “The Glow”. Driven by a raucous drum beat and fleshed out by layers among layers of undistinguishable noise, “The Glow” drones in the best way possible for eleven minutes, with changes in sound quality--there’s one moment that sounds like it was recorded in a cave--that add different atmospheres that are hard to capture on first listen. The noise disappears near the ending, giving way to soft, alternating organs and Elvrum’s shaky, emotional voice emoting lines like “on the cold dark ocean floor/I felt warmth from behind the door”. Changing from that endless drone to this more emotional epilogue of the song is an effect that easily makes the album.
That’s not to say that nearly every other track here isn’t great in its own right. In fact, the only real failure is “Drums”, which is a three-minute noisy cacophony of drum solos that completely messes up the more subdued mood of the album. Maybe that was the point; it still doesn’t work. From there, there’s only highlight among highlight. Tracks like “The Gleam” and “(Something) ver. 2” reflect the more drone-ish parts of “The Glow”, with “The Gleam” being the more obvious stand-out: a three-minute pop-song ravaged by hungry feedback, with Elvrum singing in a defeated tone, barely heard, and sounding pathetic against the noise, of course in the best way possible. There’s also those more acoustic and subdued songs that Elvrum places in his albums to flesh them out, and the songwriting doesn’t falter during these either. Opener “The Pull” is a shining example of these, with fluttering, alternating guitars opening the track before Elvrum’s perfectly calm and breathless voice begins to float hazily around, never deciding whether it wants to rise above the calm or stay with it. But then a storm of feedback and guitars bursts in, and Elvrum becomes lost beneath the cacophony of instruments, unable to handle the exploding dynamics.
This unpredictable nature of the album is what makes it so interesting. After “The Pull”, “Ice” aims for the same effect, only in reverse: moving from rocking to airy acoustics. Other parts of the album alternate styles in such an unpredictable way that it, in a strange sense that you could probably only find on a Microphones record, seems almost seamless: the transition from noisy to breezy and even somewhat experimental from “The Gleam” to “The Breeze”, and the movement from the strikingly freak-folky beginning of “Between Your Ear and the Other Ear” to the Jesus and Mary Chain-esque blasts of feedback that accent the track. These moments require your rapt attention, and more than possibly any other Microphones album, It Was Hot, We Stayed In the Water
demands it. Indie fans throughout discovered The Glow pt. 2
when it made formidable tsunamis in 2001, and embraced it as the perfect album to realize as your own. Too bad there was too little attention directed towards this just-as-pretty twin, because this twin moves just as well, even if she needs a little work to get into.