Mount Eerie is the musical alter ego of Phil Elverum, a Washington-based dude with weird vibe and a flair for muddy repetition and galant loudness. His latest work called Ocean Roar is the second half of a double-album released this year (the other is Clear Moon). It’s opening track, “Pale Lights,” has the essence of an old horror movie gone epic. It charges forward with impending doom through the accumulation of organs that drone and clash, grumbling guitars, and drums that drive the song into a noisy loop. This suddenly it fades out and (presumably) Elverum’s vocals come in as sweet sort of voice over. He sings a few lines while the main loop continues quietly underneath his words, but this diversion is temporary. The song goes on and on with added layers of drone and dissonance. The listener is unsure when it will end or if anything will happen. After nearly ten minutes, the second song (for which the album is named) begins. Much unlike the previous, track, this song is soft; lovely even. Although it is perhaps the most “normal” song on the album, it still doesn’t even remotely use the typical verse-chorus song structure. The sweet-voiced male vocals in “Ocean Roar” are accompanied by a chorus of female vocalists who are equally wistful. The song ends with some curious sound effects and mumbling that spill into the next song. “Ancient Times”. Here, there are the sounds of children playing outside as a faraway piano play little tidbits, and Mount Eerie occasionally has something to recite in some Jim Morrison-esque poetry reading.
Then the interlude sounds converge into a single high-pitched noise that turns into a bagpipe-like drone hanging over the top of some low piano riffs in the next song called “Instrumental.” These sounds diverge into a flutey instrument that plays a few lingering notes on repeat, until some buzzing guitar comes in to make drone and melody as one. The low piano riffs repeat and other noises compete for audible space. This dynamic plays out on almost every song on Ocean Roar. Drums, cymbals, and feedback come in at the end to fill in the space and provide the listener a rare moment of release and closure.
Where “Instrument” is mostly bare bones and patient, the next song “Waves” is noisy and hurried. It is also badass.
The song title is appropriate – it sounds like waves rising, crashing, and foaming on the shore. The more the song goes on, the more this nonsensical loudness begins to take shape in my ears (as it were). Like the first track, “Waves” churns along until it opens up some quiet space for Elverum to recite a few poetic words, this time in between bits of epicly crunchy guitar riffs. Following this comes “Engel Dur Luft”, where the guitar tone and style becomes more obviously metal, if that genre were produced with the generous reverb and experimentation of this unusual type of indie. The penultimate song “I Walked Home Beholding” calms the entire album down to a lull. The singing becomes less aesthetic and more intelligible, and the quick and skillful drumming is briefly replaced by snapping and sleepy cymbals. The last song revisits many of the motifs of the album (e.g. loud guitars, droning, repetitive yet meandering composition), and ends Ocear Roar with a growl of reverby guitar shredding. I can almost picture the waves quickly receding into the vastness of the night sea.
Maybe I was tired and my brain was ready for its usually fit of dreaming, but listening to this album feels like a story is being told by my ears to my mind’s eye. It becomes more distinct and tense with attention, but that can change shape without warning. It seems like maybe Mount Eerie takes some pointers from Godspeed You! Black Emperor, in that way, perhaps? Separate textures and techniques mix together; noise and drone becomes melody, melody becomes bass, minimalism becomes overbearing, and repetition becomes some strange combination of hypnotic and progressive. Maybe none of that made sense, but it’s a music not easy to describe or “get”. If you like weird and complex music, this may be for you.
If you think Mount Eerie is your cup of tea, check them out on September 22 at the Co-Prosperity Sphere in Bridgeport. You should also check out other stuff at that venue because it looks cool.