Review Summary: Do you ever get the feeling you’re being watched?
I’m not paranoid, I swear. But do you? Ever feel like you’re being watched, I mean. Not a ‘there’s a man with binoculars in that bush’ sort of feeling. No, I mean more of a ‘this dude keeps staring directly into my soul every time I try to listen to one of his records’ kind of vibe. No? Just me? Okay then.
You see, there’s this presence
I feel every time I try to listen to A Crow Looked at Me
or Now Only
. It’s as if Phil is sat right there on the end of my couch, plucking away on his weary acoustic for my benefit alone. Through each vivid anecdote and astute observation he’s sat there, clearly rather uncomfortable, and he’s looking right through me. I’m being deliberately facetious in a clumsy attempt at humour (apologies), but also to make a point. Because on Lost Wisdom, Pt.2
, in stark contrast, that presence has gone, and I don’t feel anything
Again, I exaggerate – but hear me out. On A Crow…
, Phil spoke with a clarity, intimacy and honesty that I’ve rarely experienced from even my closest friends, let alone from a piece of music. And for an artist who has spent most of his career crafting enigmatic, opaque collages of indie folk, that was huge
. With each unadorned platitude on death and loss, it felt like we were finally getting to know the distant figure we’d been following for years, connecting with him at his most desperate. I mean, we weren’t – not really
– but that’s how it felt
. Whilst never a path I expected Phil to follow, Now Only
continued in the same direction, hitting home with the same blunt literalism and bleak soundscapes as its predecessor. Of course then, as the events of 2016 begin to fade into the distance, what was Phil to do but turn around and walk hurriedly back down that same path? On Lost Wisdom, Pt.2
he does just that, with his gaze lifted and attention drawn elsewhere.
Stripping back the introspective self-dissection, Phil retreats into his old, reclusive tendencies. Meaning is shrouded in metaphor, with each autobiographical detail kept so intimate that the subject is often impossible to place. This level of obscurity is nothing new, having been a defining trait of Mount Eerie
for years, but it is strange to be placed at arms length once more. Fragments of clarity remain – inevitably, you might say, given how rooted Pt.2
is in the events of the last few years – but the conceptual and philosophical certainly take centre stage. The fleeting nature of belief is interrogated, as Phil questions (and swiftly reaffirms) his faith in love on ‘Love Without Possession’. Grief and emptiness are addressed too, with a level of abstraction that I wasn’t sure Phil would ever return to, yet handled with the same respect and grace as on the original Lost Wisdom
. Lethargic guitar lines plod along in the background, suitably formless, as Julie’s wistful vocals flutter above the mix, elevating the experience with hues of orange and washed-out blues. A gripping record it is not, given just how little there is to hold on to. Yet, given time, Pt.2
blossoms into something quite serene, as Phil dips his tones once more into the dreamy and cryptic.
When I first heard Pt.2
, realising that I no longer felt the presence
I’d grown accustomed to, I was disappointed. However, upon unpicking this disappointment and reflecting on the reasons for it, I became conflicted. Of course I have no right to demand any artist serve up their innermost thoughts and feelings on a platter, nor am I convinced that I’d actually enjoy another record like A Crow…
. But I do miss that closeness; that feeling of being convinced that you truly know
someone, even if you don’t, even if you couldn’t possibly. Yet that presence is still here, hidden beneath the abstraction and metaphor, provided you’re willing to search for it. Phil expresses himself as he’s always done: sincerely and full of heart, with little regard for how we, as consumers, might approach or interpret his work. Still folky, still intimate and still Phil, Pt.2
is a wonderful space to visit; and to be allowed to peer into his world once more – even if briefly, even if from a distance – is a privilege. For that, I’m grateful.