Review Summary: Quickly forgetting was the way I lived my life.
Tonight, I’m not falling asleep; I’m letting Phil Elvrum take me there. As I listen to Mount Eerie’s Dawn
play softly through my computer speakers, I realize that Dawn
is the testament of a man who also can’t fall asleep and also needs a sort of guide to get there, writing and improvising troubled acoustic ballads as a method of release. As Dawn
ends, Phil Elvrum seems to have said all he needs, and his mind is now at rest, now he's ready to finally succumb to sleep.
I’m not so lucky, though, as my mind’s racing wildly in excitement of what I just heard, keeping me up far into the night with pleasure. Who wouldn't want to be kept awake by such a spectacular release: Mount Eerie’s Dawn
is Phil Elvrum’s finest achievement under his (relatively) new pseudonym, being nineteen quiet folk songs that find the indie hero doing away with the fuzz and distortion that his previous works were so associated with, resulting in an album that’s more personal and obvious, as well as being calmer, than anything he’s written before.
concerns itself with topics Elvrum has hit before: nature and heartbreak. But, while Microphones albums such as Mount Eerie
and The Glow pt. 2
undoubtedly featured these themes, they each did in a “big” way, describing huge issues such as death and loss and destruction (heartbreak), and mountains and air and water and space (nature). Dawn
is a different sort of album: Elvrum’s lyrics are less flamboyant and are more isolated, confined to the tiny cabin where Elvrum’s telling his story.
I say “telling his story” for a reason, as Dawn
certainly feels autobiographical. Armed with his trusty nylon strings, Elvrum spins a tale that happens to be told in song form, and is also accompanied with his pleasant guitar playing. Elvrum opens with “It Wasn’t the Hunting”, describing a normal day ‘in the wild’ Jack London-style, claiming to ‘crack open streams’ and ‘throw spears into snowbanks’, and he rattles his accomplishments off like someone who’s perfectly content in his loneliness. From Dawn
’s first chapter, you get the feeling that Elvrum doesn’t even need anyone else, that he has too much to handle with the great outdoors.
From there, Elvrum (or Dawn
’s narrator, who’s presumably Elvrum) seems to change, and starts to experience the pain of that lost relationship and the rigmarole of loneliness, documenting his need for another caring force (“With My Hands Out), revisiting past demons and conquering them and turning them into whole new beasts (“Moon Sequel”, which is an excellent, stripped down reimaging of Elvrum’s greatest song), and even becoming depressed enough to have to argue with himself, as found in “A Show of Hands”.
These tracks, and every track on Dawn
in that case, are all remarkably similar when regarding instrumentation and structure, as they’re all quiet and purely acoustic and heavy on melody. But don’t let that fool you that Dawn
gets stuck in sameness and becomes uninteresting. You’ll become captivated by Elvrum’s tale, his battle with nature and depression, and it’s rather easy for the listener to find parallels between their own experiences and Elvrum’s. There’s also a large quantity of songs, such as the upbeat “Great Ghosts” and the heartbreaking “Cold Mountain”, with strong melodies that almost veer on the edge of being catchy. Having a few memorable songs that get stuck in your head has never really been an Elvrum specialty, and Dawn
inadvertently benefits from this.
Some will dismiss Dawn
for being too simple and too obvious and possibly too depressing, but that’s where the album’s magic lies. Dawn
charms you despite its dark feel, convincing the listener to sit a spell and be captivated by the intricacies of a story that we’ve all lived out. It’s a near masterpiece, and finds one of the better songwriters of the past decade back at top form, creating a poignant work with ease. I couldn’t be happier, despite any lost sleep I might experience.