Album Review: Mount Eerie – Pre-Human Ideas

mount_eerie_pre-human_ideasThe day’s light is almost gone. The street that leads you home is the same as it always has been. Yet as the early winter, dusky light bounces through the branches of the evergreens, that same street, your street, becomes something entirely new. Was that lamppost always here? Is this fence newly constructed? Did a tree fall, or has this clearing always been so barren? What has not changed suddenly seems foreign in your mind, and this new perception becomes reality.

Pre-Human Ideas, Elverum’s newest effort, takes a set of previously released songs and reimagines them with the dedicated use of GarageBand. Where the original songs ranged from acoustic strummers to elaborate, full-band arrangements, these new versions are composed entirely by Elverum on GarageBand. Even Allyson Foster’s vocals on songs from Clear Moon and Ocean Roar are sung by Elverum and then auto-tuned. The only two analog tracks open and close the album and act as an invocation and an epilogue, sort of meditation prayers that isolate the organs from recent songs “Pale Lights” and “The Place Lives.”

Elverum himself is the lone force responsible for these recordings, and his likeness appears on the cover, contrasting with the typical images of nature or drawings that adorn most Mount Eerie releases. Indeed, this is a synthetic album, filtered through a human and through human tools. But insofar as humans are part of the natural world, are our creations simply extensions of that natural world? This is Mount Eerie hollering in the synthetic night of the digital wild.

Elverum is no stranger to reworking, recreating, or rereleasing songs. Song Islands Vol. 2 included an abundance of obscure rarities and B-sides, and Eleven Old Songs of Mount Eerie featured previously released material reworked using only a Casiotone keyboard. Significantly similar between these actions is the “re”—to go back and to work again, create again, release again. Elverum sees the world, sees art, as unfinished, something to which one can, and perhaps should and must, return. This approach implicitly embraces the ultimate truth of the universe and emphasizes a vital facet of art lost on many musicians of our time—we are all, especially artists, in a perpetual state of growth, of rebirth, of return. T.S. Eliot once astutely observed: “We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”

I’ve written extensively about the music of Mount Eerie’s Phil Elverum and its ability to reflect a place, specifically the place where Elverum was born and raised, Anacortes, Washington. The songs of Mount Eerie evoke a place, but over an expansive, cohesive, conceptual body of work, the songs themselves have become a place of their own. Here, you can wander aurally through a finely textured world, find yourself marveling at diverse landscapes, and observe familiar streets in new lights.

About author
Bryan Parker is a writer and photographer living and working in Austin, TX. He is the founder of blog Pop Press International and print journal True Sincerity and recently released his first book, a volume on Beat Happening in the 33 1/3 series.

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