Lo-fi indie pop gets a startling makeover in the able hands of Phil Elvrum, the young Washington state producer/musician who fronts the loose aggregate of crunchy creative types known as the Microphones.
Over a series of albums and singles he's made for the venerable Olympia label K, Elvrum has methodically disassembled the idea of the shaggy-haired dude with a busted guitar (i.e., Lou Barlow) and rebuilt it as a perpetual work in progress, exposing the seams in his songwriting and recording both by declining to tie up his records' loose ends and by issuing, dub reggae-style, alternate and isolated versions of instrumental tracks and studio outtakes. It makes for fascinating listening: "The Glow" Pt. 2, a 2001 Microphones CD, careens from folk-pop strumming to sludge-rock with all the grace do-it-yourself music is supposed to promise, and Elvrum reflects that dynamic range in his songs' naked reverberations.
Mount Eerie, the Microphones' latest effort, continues the group's journey into itself, arriving not only as a typical album, but also in drums- and vocals-only editions; it's no less ambitious, either, ostensibly telling a vaguely defined story about self-realization inspired by a mountain located on the tiny island on which Elvrum grew up. Since Elvrum's not a member of Yes, the concept doesn't really take off, but the music here does: five long swatches of sound that fold Elvrum's diminutive croon into his expanding palette of varied guitar tones, throbbing percussion, found-soundcollage and near-ambient choral arrangements. "How many times have I madeup this song before?" he wonders in "Universe." Several times, actually, but it keeps getting more engaging.