by Tanner Stechnij Ledger Line Music

Microphones | Microphones in 2020

Credit: Jordi Vidal/Redferns/Getty

Phil Elverum continues to write his sonic autobiography with Microphones in 2020, a delicate, Proustian journey through his memories. 


The unfolding biography of Phil Elverum’s life — which he has for years been telling under his Mount Eerie moniker, most exceptionally in a trilogy of albums released between 2017 and 2019 — has received its most sprawling chapter yet with the droning, avant-folk memoir Microphones in 2020. The album, actually a single 45-minute song, is built on a looping, slightly percussive but sedated guitar duet that nonchalantly races towards accents at the end of each phrase. This instrumentation remains the album’s perpetual force, changing slightly in intensity and occasionally inviting hints of percussion and feedback to enhance Elverum’s narrative, but otherwise strong and unwavering for its entire duration. After seven and a half uninterrupted minutes of this, Elverum’s voice blows in, as gentle and precious as ever: “The true state of all things / I keep on not dying, the sun keeps on rising.” With this, a lump may form in the throats of those familiar with Elverum’s recent history, from his wife’s quick battle with cancer that left him a widower and single parent, to his highly publicized, brief marriage to actress Michelle Williams, and the emotional battles he’s faced and broadcasted concurrently. With the release of Now Only after A Crow Looked at Me, and Lost Wisdom, Pt. 2 after both, not dying has become a unifying theme of this epoch of Elverum’s career.

In A Crow Looked At Me, Elverum told the story of his wife’s death in real time, recalling feelings and memories of the days, hours, and moments after her death. Here, under the Microphones handle, he uses an antipodal narrative device, recalling moments throughout his life in an immensely composed, stream-of-consciousness style. It’s a kind of Proustian journey through Elverum’s memories, and, stimulated by the chaos of his current life, he revisits moments when he was “twenty, or seventeen, or twenty-three.” He recalls washing dishes; he remembers a rainy day when he was wearing flip flops in a parking lot after watching Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon at the dollar theater; he shares some of his early inspirations like Red House Painters, Tori Amos, and The Cranberries. In a career marked by confessions, Elverum clearly has more yet to reveal. In the writing of his autobiography, Microphones in 2020 is both a stunning, literary poem and an entrancing song. His generosity is boundless.


Published as part of Ledger Line | Q3 2020 Issue — Part 2.

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