“It's not that bad, but I know I wanted to go deeper beneath the pain // beneath the human.”
Plato can be credited for saying that it's the ultimate duty of writers and painters to "help us live better lives." Over 2000+ years later and I doubt anyone would want to discredit this sentiment. Though, maybe it could use some amending for the modern day. In a world riddled with injustices (and outlets for mental deterioration) at every corner, I find that the novelist, designer, and musician are just as important as the businessman. I mean, who else can we credit for feeding our brains with new information, emotions, and perspective on the daily? Providing ideas that we lack or repositioning ideas that we have trouble navigating? Catharsis. An all too familiar friend of ours.
I think it's easy to forget though that most works are a personal effort on the creative's part. In all honesty, most of us don't know how the inner workings of music or art function. Terminology maybe, but let's not go over our heads here. What's a G note from a D note? A tonic from a dominant? A squiggle from a stroke? In that regard, music especially is an empathetic experience. Doesn’t it seem silly to judge something based on our preconceived notions of how the gears spin only to then find out that the system functions in an entirely different manner? Surely it has to.
With this rambling out of the way, I'd like to talk about a man named Phil Elverum. A name unfamiliar to most, but one that strikes the hearts of even the most cynical of music enthusiasts. It's a testament to Elverum's catalog of work that I'm much more inclined to discuss who he is rather than what he's done. Elverum's music hosts some of the most empathic tunes you can ever subject yourself too. Elverum may not be the first person to write about (and interweave) the depths of isolation, the nervousness of sex, the present moment, or even the attachment (and inevitable disposal) of his dead wife's trash, but I'm probably insinuating that these topics are (somehow) a trademark. Surely there's no truth behind this, but it goes without saying that there's personalization that circulates within any album of which you play. Regardless if it's under the Microphones or the Mount Eerie moniker. The bare, claustrophobic acoustics of Dawn or the naivety, noisy, and hyper-romanticism of It Was Hot, We Stayed in the Water There's something for leveling. There's something for sifting. There's something for everyone.
Microphones in 2020 is perhaps Elverum’s most esoteric, beautiful and subtly audacious album to date - almost to the point that it makes A Crow Looked At Me seem superficial in comparison. (Though, one might argue that was the case anyways.) It encapsulates everything we love to hear from Elverum and it adds more meaning on top of that. It’s not just what words Elverum sings but it’s also how he sings them. There’s a hint of trepidation in his voice - per usual - but here we’re invited into that space - that train of thought. When flint meets steel and sparks subsequently fly out into the distance. This is a very intimate album and I mean that on a larger, more philosophical scale - because trust me - the scale here is massive. Anyone looking to play this with the sole intent of self-service will be utterly disappointed.
Microphones in 2020 will show its true, minimalistic colors when “intimacy” becomes a shared space. Elverum invites you precariously in an almost 8 minute acoustic, repeating passage opener that’s desensitizing. It really asks the listener not only to open up, but also to have patience. Almost as if Elverum is still trying to muster the words or if he’s preparing himself for what he’s about to say.
On that note this album is absolutely dense and existential. There’s no real way to make that sound floral, glossy, or even appealing to cynical bastards other than to be blunt about it. It could be interpreted as Elverum’s mid-life crisis, yes, but I also think it could be exacerbated by recent events in the world and in Elverum’s life. Specifically his early-twenties and some of his core philosophies then and now - clashing and arguing with one another to reach some sense of resolution - which happens spectacularly in the album’s parting words. Try to picture Elverum - or yourself - directly sitting in the mindset he/you were once in with the experience you have now; that’s Microphones in 2020 in a very broad sense. So much of this album presents itself in such a meticulous and thoughtful way that only makes sense when you listen to it and sit with the sounds playing. I guess what I can conjure up is that experiences of old are seen in a new perspective. I’d argue that’s what this album is at its core. It delves even deeper into the mind of a man just when you think he couldn’t go any deeper. Does all of it make sense? No. Not really. It’s that self referential and so interwoven with a different time period of life. To some extent it isn’t our place to know what each word (and each syllable in between) means - even though YOU KNOW there’s substantial weight and intent in the effort. The more Elverum writes the more I feel like I’m trespassing on private property - or something like that. Yes. It is very well maintained however.
I feel a bit of a need to end this on a personal note because - if I'm being honest with you - this album broke and assembled me back together. Or, maybe just got me thinking like I typically do? Admittedly, I’ve had some of these words written down for a few weeks now. Half of it being that I felt the urge to write with intent for the first time in months, but also in the way Elverum discussed his vision for the album. He’s writing about a state of mind many of us are currently (or similarly) in and without much direction as to where to go no less. There’s a line where Elverum shares that - in his twenties - everything had some sense of significance in a world where everything means nothing. (Perhaps that explains the copious amount of pictures in his video for the album, but I digress.) Nothing has made more sense for *this* twenty year old person living in a podunk town than in those passing few seconds. There’s this feeling that life ends in your mid-twenties because I think curiosity begins to slow down and time begins to wane because you start to see the sacredness of it - so you start getting selective. People change and you eventually outgrow the spaces you’re in. Gone are the days of pulling all-nighters with your friends online and in-person. Now I’m just trying to survive. I think it’s easy to normalize such a headspace.
When this album ended, the repeating passage of Microphones in 2020 fizzled out from my head and instead turned into The Pull from the previously mentioned It Was Hot, We Stayed In the Water. Partially because they sound similar in structure to some degree, but also it’s a song I lean on nowadays. That whole album really embodies youth or - more specifically - your early twenties. Blushing emotions, naive ideals, and an overbearing sense of romanticism percolate within that album and so much of that pertains to my own wants, desires, and mindset. It’s where I’m at as of writing this. Perhaps it also explains the sudden shift in sound to its follow-ups The Glow. Pt 2 and Mount Eerie. Those ideals aren’t met because you learn eventually that you can’t play God and that most circumstances are out of your control. I think that’s the wisdom behind Microphones in 2020 - or at least that’s what I got out of it. That you know nothing. Not what will happen to you twenty seconds after reading this or how you’ll handle what will come next. Eventually you learn flexibility and you learn to embrace the unexpected. That you don't have to be the person you were five seconds ago. In that I see myself coming back to this album many more times in the future. Maybe everything really doesn’t have meaning - but then again - maybe we can turn nothing into something. After all, here we are talking about life, death, age, philosophy, and the inability to escape the void of time. Because somewhere buried deep in the cultural destain, muddled drones, and vivid poetry; the words of Phil Elverum mean something profound to us.