Review Summary: I can’t remember when or if I woke up.
It’s a beautiful obsession. Phil Elverum has always held close his attachment to the natural world, using his environment of frozen lakes and snowy pines as a means of introspection. Mount Eerie, his musical project after the dissolution of The Microphones, adopts the language of this obsession, finding nuance in simple icons of nature. Sauna
is no different, taking basic ideas - water, wood, heat - and hoping to find within them some meaning to his existence. It’s an approach held from the beginning: the title track opens with an organ drone, a fire crackling in the background, before spiralling up, vocals steadily joining the mix. The titular motif dominates, the hiss of the hi-hats coalescing with samples of steam, leaving the two indistinguishable. The suffocating warmth carries a morbidity, the flames tearing the wood apart as ‘the body groans.’ Yet, Elverum shows no fear. He instead opts for indifference. ‘I don’t think the world still exists’, he confesses, ‘only this room in the snow.’
It’s a fitting title for an album of scattered ideas held together by hazy warmth. To label Sauna
as a simple fusion of folk, drone, and black metal would understate its eclecticism. Here, Mount Eerie opt for a softer momentum, crafting a less directed, more atmospheric experience that prefers to toy with its sound rather than guide it. Lo-fi production mixes with heavy sampling, building a foundation of crushed field recordings. ‘Dragon’ takes a gentle gust of wind, its hiss blending with the whispered cooing of the female chorus, that grows in volume until it consumes the entire soundscape. The otherwise straightforward ‘Turmoil’ is ridden with windswept rattling, an ethereal reminder of the world outside. It’s oddly lonely, the sampling developing a sense of isolation. Even the heavier tracks are preoccupied with solitude - ‘More emptiness again / And more, and more’, he sings against a thundering organ in ‘Emptiness’, his voice one of acceptance.
Emotionally, however, the focus falls upon ‘Sauna’ and ‘Spring’, two sprawling compositions built on drone. The latter is Mount Eerie at their most dwarfing, yet its impact is reliant on its relative stability - by comparison, the rest of Sauna
is terse. The brevity of the shorter tracks feels more like an innate quality than a consequence of design. Each musical idea is toyed with, then discarded, drifting through without any true attachment. This approach is what gives such life to Mount Eerie’s idiosyncratic contradictions: ‘Boat’ collapses into distortion, the violent instrumentation a powerful contrast to Elverum’s demure vocals. ‘Planet’ pits solipsistic mumbling against a gorgeous reverbed guitar lead. If the tracks were longer, they’d lose the tired, ambivalent ease of their composition, but at their length, they remain almost conversational. Even at its most alien moments, such as during the quivering vocals and flutes of ‘This’, Sauna
builds an intimacy, the female chorus intermingling with Elverum’s quiet singing. It’s fleeting. Much like ‘Dragon’ before it, the lyrical counterpoint is soon drowned in noise, its purpose long passed.
’s core remains Elverum’s poetic lyricism. He makes the mundane powerful - ‘I was born / Out of nowhere’, he sings, layering banal truths to build an image of natural emptiness. He sings from a fog of lost time: each day bleeds into the next, the ‘disconnected and young’ trapped in a warmth without form, leaving Elverum standing in his kitchen, not even certain if he awoke that morning. ‘I blink and I’m gone again,’ he sings, yet Sauna
, for all its wistful existentialism, never seems trapped by fear. It reminds you not to worry.