There’s a scene in Fargo, the Coen Brothers’ 1996 masterpiece, in which a frustrated Steve Buscemi bangs his open fist atop a snowy television set inside of a cold cabin. As he hits the casing in a futile effort, cursing at it repeatedly, the camera slowly zooms in on the gray static. Slowly, the shot gets tighter, zeroing in on the screen until finally the screen consumes the entire composition and, like magic, turns to a clear picture. When I listen to the first two songs found on Wind’s Poem, the latest from Phil Elverum’s Mount Eerie, I can’t help but picture this scene. Not because the scene’s content relates particularly to that of the album, but because that’s what most of it sounds like. One moment can pound with raw, ear-bleeding fuzz just before it clears up into tranquil wanderings.
A near foil to the sparseness of last year’s Lost Wisdom, an album consisting of solely acoustic guitar and voice, this thing is flooded with all sorts of noise. It’s almost as if an entirely different person is responsible for it. But then you remember who it is you’re dealing with. This is Phil Elverum. You know, the guy responsible for The Glow Pt. 2. The guy who opened the album Mount Eerie with a 17-minute song meant to simulate the listener’s birth, crafted from breaking static, heartbeats, and tribal drums. Like some of its predecessors, Wind’s Poem will straight up smack you in the face . . . and you’ll like it for that.
If unaccustomed with what Mr. Elverum does, especially on the Mount Eerie front, it may be even more jarring to listen to Wind’s Poem. Even the biggest Microphones/Mount Eerie fans will be surprised by the album’s crassness. But, as a follower of the journey that has been Elverum’s ever-flowing output, it’s every bit as exhilarating as it should be. Listening to Mount Eerie is like sitting in a recording studio with a troubled genius. As listener, you are almost watching Elverum discover himself, observing as he finds his new sounds and vision. He recorded his own seclusion in Norway with Dawn, to which a 144-page book accompanies. He has released dozens of EPs and unofficials, which he sells through his own label and website, PW Elverum and Sun. He is always making something available to the public and is deeply invested in his music. With each unique release, the guy is looking back to what he has done previously, often revisiting earlier songs in new ways or drawing lyrics and melodies from past compositions. Elverum doesn’t appear to hide much from his listeners, and with his music you really get a sense of how much this guy loves what he does. Elverum isn’t a songwriter. He lives and breathes in his music, or at least it would appear that way.
His latest vision, previewed by last year’s Black Wooden Ceiling Opening EP, leans toward the dark noise of what Elverum describes as Black Metal. Mainly the influence of American Black Metal/Ambient act, Xasthur. This would explain the sometimes painful noises that can be found all over the new record. But, despite a pretty different addition to the Mount Eerie repetoire, and one that would be ostensibly out of place and unpleasant, the result is every bit as gorgeous as before, only now there’s some dark, dark shit going on musically.
As always, a good pair of headphones is a must. One must note that this is not driving music. This is not background music. This is pay-the-fuck attention or you’ll miss something music. Elverum has always been known for his pension for throwing your ears into a frenzy, engineering strums and other noises to alternate phones left and right. Not as much of that is here, but still, you’d better put on some buckets for this one anyways.
As the title suggests, wind is the largest theme on this thing. To Elverum, this is pretty much what he advertises it as, wind’s poem. The disc captures the overpowering feel of nature, something massive and all encompassing, the details of which are often overlooked by Earth’s inhabitants. With each track, Elverum comments that while nature is omnipresent, most of the time people don’t even notice it’s there. When we do try to find meaning in it, it’s damn near impossible to do so. To even attempt to analyze nature and make some meaning of it, you really have to pay attention. I find myself feeling the same way about this record. I squint with my ears to hear what Elverum has to say, trying to make out the quiet whispers through the fuzzed-out static of “Wind’s Dark Poem”, the LP’s opening track. I am watching a television filled with gray noise. I can almost make out the lyrics and melody found on Lost Widsom‘s “Flaming Home”, only now those words take on an entirely different meaning. I hit the screen and lean in closer and closer, and suddenly, after four minutes, it clears up. Elverum is showing us nature through the chaos and subtlety he has closely juxtaposed. In nature, apparent disorder exists alongside seemingly calculated beauty. That’s exactly what you’ll find on Wind’s Poem. Static engulfs every other track — the sound you’d get if you recorded strong winds and filtered the muffled cries through heavy distortion. Sometimes those crashes combine with harsh drums and metal guitar riffs, but all as one unit of noise. This is how Elverum portrays the wind, which he finds so confusing. Underneath it is Elverum’s soft croon, a voice that could make anything sound profound. With it, Elverum cogitates his own place in the vastness that is nature, how the natural world speaks to him, and how he reacts. He hears the wind “singing words” that he doesn’t know, as his own sonic interpretation of wind nearly drowns him out. He hears a language in nature, and he wants to decode it. It’s thought provoking, startling, and demands repeated listens to even grasp any sense of what it all means.
Recurring themes of “words in the wind” capture the intimate thoughts of a guy who desperately wants to understand it all but can’t. On “Lost Wisdom pt. 2”, he comments, “I think the screaming wind said my name” and picks out “the sound of the river sighing/here’s your home.” In his intense reflections, he nearly gives up: “nothing means nothing/everything is fleeting.” The wind carries intense introspection, violently rushing in when it pleases. The gusty blows do take a break, however, to let some other natural sounds make their way in. “Between Two Mysteries”, one of the finest Mount Eerie tracks to date, is a perfect example of the balance Elverum has attained here. With elegant click-clacking, palm muted electric strums, and string synthesizers that recall the Twin Peaks soundtrack, the song is as peaceful as they come, amid an album of coarse drones. Side by side, this stuff will consume you.
What is this beast and where did it come from? If you stare intently enough through the dense trees and claustrophobic winds of Elverum’s latest triumph, you might be able to excavate some fragment of an answer. But the true beauty here is that, like in nature, there really isn’t one to find; just a collection of thoughts and reactions to the very dilemma of attempting to draw conclusions from something so vast and complex that it’s frightening. This is one man’s quest for making sense out of chaos, hitting a wall, and accepting the immensity for what it is. In the end, Elverum proves that we don’t need an answer after all; all we really need is Wind’s Poem.
Also available at Consequence of Sound