Thursday, October 28, 2010

Thursday's Track: Mount Eerie "Between Two Mysteries"

This is a trial run for a potential new series in which I upload a track I like and write about it. If people are interested, let me know in the comments and I'll keep the series going. I hope that this series will elicit some conversation about the songs and artists chosen. Although this site will still always be primarily about film, I also enjoy writing about music and haven't done enough of it lately. The first entry in the series is dedicated to one of the most important songwriters of the last decade or so, Phil Elverum of the Microphones and Mount Eerie.

"Between Two Mysteries" is a key track on Mount Eerie's bleak masterpiece Wind's Poem, an album inspired by black metal, by David Lynch's Twin Peaks, and by singer Phil Elverum's year of living in an isolated cabin in the Scandanavian wilds. This song makes the Twin Peaks influence explicit by cleverly interpolating snatches of the droning, eerie melody from Angelo Badalamenti's music for that series. This unsettling tune is juxtaposed against a propulsive guitar figure and hints of vibraphone accents, while Elverum's hushed vocals drift atop the dense, layered music. Elverum has always been interested in nature, in the elements, writing his psychological and emotional trials onto the harsh, cold expanse of an unblinking, uninterested natural world. His lyrics often suggest humanity's encounter with the incomprehensibility of the universe, which is why towering mountains, purifying flames and icy winds recur again and again in his imagery. Here he sings: "The town rests in the valley beneath twin peaks, buried in space/ What goes on up there in the night?" The lyrics turn around such ambiguous questions and such charged images; the "twin peaks" might be mountains dwarfing a settlement, or they might be a proper noun referring to Lynch's warped rural landscape.

This song, a delicate gem positioned amidst the at-times blistering assault of Wind's Poem as a whole, evokes sonically as well as lyrically that fragile beacon of civilization nestled within the chilly wilderness. Other songs on this album use waves of ferocious guitar distortion to evoke the roar and rage of the wind, buffeting Elverum's murmuring voice until he seems lost and afraid. "Between Two Mysteries" suggests a shelter from the storm, a respite from nature's awe-inspiring fearsomeness, even if that foreboding hum underpinning everything hints at darker ideas. For this reason, the song works best in the context of Wind's Poem as a whole, and I'd recommend that anyone who likes this song should certainly check out the full album. But even in isolation, this is a remarkable example of Elverum's rich, allusive, deeply affecting songwriting.


Drew said...

I think this is a fantastic idea Ed, and would love to see this become a regular feature over here.

As it so happens, Wind's Poem was one of the many albums I sought out and listened to after your awesome decade countdown, and while it took me a few listens, I've become pretty enamored with it. I was always a big fan of The Glow pt. 2, but for some reason never sought out Elverum's other projects. This song is definitely one of my favorites from the disc, as you've said, it's so perfectly chilly and mysterious and makes wonderful use of that haunting Badalamenti drone - of who I've also always been a huge fan of, which makes the fact of this album escaping my radar for so long all the more baffling.

I greatly enjoy it when you write about music Ed, so stuff like this will always be a welcome treat.

Ed Howard said...

I'm glad I could turn you on to this great album, Drew. A lot of people, myself included, lost track of Elverum after the Microphones ended and he started releasing a seemingly endless stream of releases of varying quality as Mount Eerie. I only caught up with his post-Microphones output in the last few years, and there are a surprising number of gems in there. While Wind's Poem is undoubtedly the best thing he's done since The Glow Pt. 2 (still his masterpiece), I also have a lot of love for most of the other major Mount Eerie albums: No Flashlight, the minimal, acoustic Dawn, Lost Wisdom, the blistering EP Black Wooden Ceiling Opening. To some extent, Elverum's reputation suffered from releasing too much material, inundating fans with limited editions and half-assed odds-and-ends collections, but he was still recording a lot of really wonderful music.

And I agree that the Badalamenti music is used really well here. There are hints of it on the lengthy "Through the Trees" as well, which also has a real Lynchian vibe. Badalamenti is one of the greats, I've always loved his work with Lynch, and it's great to hear his music incorporated so ingeniously into another artist's work.

Troy Olson said...

Great idea here, Ed. I like the conceit of delving in to single tracks as opposed to entire albums as it's easier to digest it in a few minutes.

This seems to be a perfect song for this time of the year as the weather changes -- it has that autumnal feel down perfectly. The Lynch connection became evident once you pointed it out (I knew I had heard the underlying music somewhere, but couldn't quite place it) and adds to mystique. I'm too lazy to go check, but did Eleverum work on that Lynch inspired Dark Night of the Soul album? Didn't think he was a big enough name to contribute, but this song shows he could have.

Like Drew, I too listened to Mount Eerie after you mentioned them in your decade countdown. In fact, that whole list has added quite a few new artists into my regular rotation.

Ed Howard said...

Thanks, Troy. I purposefully wanted to focus on single tracks both because it would require less time commitment to check out one song, and because I didn't want to start uploading full albums anywhere.

Elverum didn't contribute to that Danger Mouse/Sparklehorse/Lynch album (which I found a little disappointing considering the talent involved) but he's definitely a kindred spirit with a similar sense for mystery and dark emotions. I like what you say about this song's autumnal mood, too. Elverum, as interested as he is in nature, has always been great at painting aural portraits of the seasons and of particular natural settings. I doubt anyone can listen to the Microphones' classic "The Moon" without getting concrete mental images of the scenes Elverum is singing about. This song works similarly; it's a combination of his evocative lyrics and his equally potent music.