Mount Eerie (w. Julie Doiron and Fred Squire)
PW Elverum and Sun
Lost Wisdom (the title cribbed from a Burzum lyric, promise) is full of tiny wooden jewel box hymns based almost fully around the voice — or rather the bewitching possibilities in the intertwining of voices. The sole accompaniment is the sparsest of guitars, sitting quietly and patiently in the very back of the room as if afraid to break this spell. The hum of the tape recorder, the ambient whoosh of the room, creaking chairs and footsteps became willing accomplices in the tiny dramas of these songs. Everything about this record is dusted with the magic of the moment. Even the story behind Lost Wisdom‘s creation is too much. Recorded “in a small wooden room” in several days at Mount Eerie mainstay (and sole member) Phil Elverum’s Anacortes house with visiting musicians Julie Doiron (vocals) and Fred Squire (guitar), the album is a sort of dream project for the restless Elverum. For you see, in another life, Doiron was the lead singer in ’90s alternative standard-bearers Eric’s Trip, and a teenaged Elverum was their biggest fan. Is it any wonder than, that when your favorite singer knocks on your door and offers her services, that your latest record will turn out to be composed of mostly duets?
It’s not common for Elverum to share much space with anyone in Mount Eerie or the Microphones, but on Lost Wisdom each member of this trio’s contributions gets equal space to softly dance around one another, bowing and nodding in a courtly fashion. Vocal melodies lead the songs along, with bare bones acoustic guitar and creeping, silvery, spidery tones of electric guitar following in around and behind like a silent protector. To hear these two lovely voices, Elverum’s eternally young, perfectly enunciated singsong whisper and Julie Doiron’s clear, sad and bell-like lilt together is a genuine pleasure; even as the tears well up in the face of the bleak subject matter. Lost love, loneliness, decay, unstoppable change, natural disasters, destruction. The album starts off strong and stately with the prayerful “Lost Wisdom,” with words left hanging in the air, gently circling lead guitar lines and the softest of tandem sighs before both vocalists repeat the title of the song again and again. Listen to “Voice in Headphones'” imploring, soaring group chorus of “It’s not meant to be a struggle uphill” with Elverum breaking off from the group, vowing to “no longer fight it” and wondering who the voice in the headphones, the floating head at the door, is.
The desolate kitchen sink drama of “Flaming Home” — where a house burns down as a love dies — is sung with detached acceptance by Elverum and Doiron, secretly relishing every painful detail, as they urge each other, “let’s get out of the romance.” “What?” grows to a fervent, pleading storm of thundercloud anguish. “With My Hands Out” is one gorgeous minute of sweet promised surrender, tentative footsteps of guitar and swooning vocals melodies that are understated and conversational. “O My Heart” is a skeletal blues, with Squire taking center stage on lyrical lead lines, never too fussy, and Elverum and Doiron shadowing one another, singing about hunting for their missing hearts, in a long unspooling lyric.
Songs are far too brief, never content to repeat, instead move on to the next lovelorn haiku, and the album is done before it really even begins. How bittersweet.
PW Elverum and Sun: www.pwelverumandsun.com