Phil Elverum's decision to change the name of his project in 2003 was no coincidence. It wasn't even a whim. The Microphones went on to be Mount Eerie because, for Elverum, that seemingly frivolous action meant a new start, a new way to focus his creativity through sound. Like Lars Von Trier with his Dogme 95 adventure (and later with the experiment “The Five Obstructions”), the American set himself a few limits. His objective was to create his own sound, inspired by the calmness of folk, but covered in darkness, shaken by looped noises and stealthy vocals that always seem to announce tragedy.
That's exactly what we find on “Clear Moon”, a disturbing and harsh record, surprising and mysterious. It's actually the first of two parts that were recorded at the same time; the second part, “Ocean Roar”, will come out this autumn. While that second chapter, according to its maker, will be “more challenging and weird and darker and heavier” - saturated with organs and inspired by black metal and the experimental spirit of Terry Riley and Steve Reich - “Clear Moon” is more accessible, guided by hypnotic guitar layers. “The idea was for it to feel like a thick fog laying on your head, versus a clear sky with the moon in it.” He also said that all recordings took place during 15 months at The Unknown, a studio he built in an old Catholic church that hasn't been used as such for 30 years.
One can imagine this sound freak locked in a giant room with stained glass windows for hours, trying out new noises and making them bounce off the walls with incredible patience. Every day, Elverum walked to the studio from home, a repetitive and constant process that shaped the songs, which became a way to express how the composer felt about living right then and there. In that sense, “Clear Moon” isn't so much a work about Anacortes (Washington) - a town close to Seattle, with about 20,000 inhabitants, surrounded by forests with extremely tall trees - as it is a story about the life the musician leads over there, and about his deepest thoughts.
In order to create that somewhat oneiric and suggestive feeling, Elverum divided the album into different chapters, not necessarily linked to each other in a logical way. It makes for some rather sudden jumps, like on the first two tracks, where he goes from the folk pop of “Through The Trees Pt. 2” to the electric storm of “The Place Lives”. There are two short instrumental interludes as well, both titled “(something)”, which could be part of the soundtrack of some psychological thriller. But the key is in tracks like “The Place I Live” and “Over Dark Water”, on which the noise, the reverb, the blackness and the tension spin out of control. The former track, incidentally, features guest vocals by Canadian singer Ô Paon, Elverum's wife, who accompanied him on his recent tour with Earth.
The idea Mount Eerie has about music is conceptual, without a doubt, which is why we would like to hear the two records together, as that's how they were conceived. However, on this first chapter, the artist already leaves a few clues about what was going through his head when composing these melodies. Listening to the album means you'll experience panic ( “Lone Bell”), you'll imagine being part of a weird liturgical ceremony ( “Clear Moon”), and you'll feel alone and misunderstood in an empty world that doesn't make sense ( “Yawning Sky”).