Microphones mastermind Phil Elverum doesn’t mind going big. Since the 2004 inception of his bleak-folk Mount Eerie alias, Elverum’s indie imprint put out no less than 15 EPs and LPs, one of them a sprawling 31-tracks-long. Another allegedly holds the record for world’s largest album art. His recent black tangent, Wind’s Poem, bulges with a primal heaviness befitting the tree-topped mountains Elverum’s so keen to immobilize on his fog-smeared album covers. But there’s something different about the immensity of Mount Eerie’s newest album. Clear Moon, one of two pending LPs recorded over two years in a desanctified Anacortes, WA, church that Elverum calls “the Unknown,” foregoes the spooky songwriter’s familiar lo-fi rawness for a resounding clarity, placing the hugeness just beyond the reach of it’s slow-growing surface tension. It’s the foreboding bigness of a full moon reflected on a glassy lake: deceptively beautiful, and deep enough to drown in.
Written in and about a 16,000-population ferry town on the Puget Sound, Clear Moon is a midnight corollary to the Decemberist’s sunsoaked The King Is Dead. Its 11 cohesive tracks serve to contextualize both the musical and arboreal roots of Elverum’s creativity. The result delves as deeply into the Mount Eerie back catalog as the frontman’s rangy web of influences. Right away in “Through The Trees pt. 2” our night hike embarks with a jaunty reprise of an 11-minute lullaby from the murky Wind’s Poem scrapbook. “The natural world…It’s hard to describe without seeming absurd,” our tourguide hums above sleepy acoustic chords. “I know there’s no other world/ mountains and websites.”
It’s a strange line, but strangely fitting. While lyrically Clear Moon spends more time pondering the immensity of Northwestern vistas than Windows Vista, it’s easy to peg Elverum as the sort who sees a natural beauty in technology’s mimetic replication of patterns and vibes. His label page packages Clear Moon alongside a 14-track YouTube playlist that gives equal attention to Cocteau Twins synth blushes as IRL dubstep farts creaking out of frozen Ukrainian coastlines. When tasked with reshaping these influences into a composite of what Elverum calls the “larger, darker, non-human” mysteries embedded in the country around him, the result is just as focused. “Lone Bell” rumbles like a vast and patterned Popol Vuh chant while Burzum‘s growing, growling puddles of black mud ripple through “Clear Moon” and “Over Dark Water.” The entire album, recorded to an analog tape machine, is foggy with Ivo Watts-Russell‘s dark dream haze, and haunts just as well.
Clear Moon is powerful. Elverum’s biggest disservice to his own output is turning in a thesis statement and works cited list alongside a project that could, and should, stand alone in mountainous obscurity. But this is a small complaint to leverage against such a convincing and darkly styled panorama of nature’s arcane majesty. Phil Elverum’s only scrawled a map. It’s still on us to brave the fog.