Microphones in 2020 is the first Microphones record in 17 years but it has not been a quiet period for bandleader Phil Evelrum, the man behind 10 Mount Eerie LPs released during this time. Evelrum made waves in 2017 with his phenomenal and phenomenally sad A Crow Looked at Me which chronicled the days following the death of his wife in real time. 2018’s Now Only saw him enter the next stage of grief, his music at points acting as a joyful mockery of death. Last year’s Lost Wisdom Pt. 2 saw him move away from these themes, offering a greater amount of closure than either of these releases managed.
This album being the first output from the group in almost 2 decades is not the most immediately striking thing about it. Listeners tuning in on release day may have been surprised by the fact that it is a single 45 minute song. Both a single and an album. For the first 7 minutes Evelrum repeats one riff, switching between two gorgeous, bold, scratchy chords, eventually the key changes and we are given his talkative, lyrical style of singing. Evelrum is reflecting on his whole life, it is his autobiography in song. There are meta moments where he refers to himself putting together this very track. “Went back into the studio to resume whatever this thing is. This spooling out repetitive decades long song string. This river coursing through my life”. This song is also an ode to The Microphones, explaining how the collective got together, why he took their name and “crumpled it up”, then reunited.
There is a slow, dramatic build in instrumentation that peaks and troughs from bright and bold to quiet and cold. Anyone who is used to Mount Eerie’s typically hands off, skeletal and delicate instrumentation will be surprised by the peaks – it’s affecting. In the lyrics Elverum describes the purpose of and inspiration for this music in words better than anyone else could. “I saw Stereolab in Bellingham and they played one chord for fifteen minutes. Something in me shifted. I brought back home belief I could create eternity. Leaning the guitar up on the amp, taping down organ keys. Feeding back forever distorted waves of cymbals oceany.” The album is an indie folk release, not a drone piece, but there are drone inspired, eternal moments which weave in and out, making it grander.
This song is a bold move. Certainly not the creation of a group that wants to reunite for money. Performing a single folk song, sustained for this length of time, in lesser hands would be absurd. The Microphones get away with it.
Microphones in 2020 is out now on P.W. Elverum & Sun.