Album Review: The Microphones – The Glow Pt. 2 [Reissue]




Ten years after his final LP as The Microphones, Phil Elverum has spent 2013 reissuing the records he made under his most familiar moniker. During his youth in Anacortes and Olympia, Washington, Elverum made a handful of attempts at The Glow Pt. 2‘s cosmic drama. Tests set tape loop experiments against a teenage Elverum’s already developed songwriting chops and a cast of co-conspirators (including Khaela Maricich of the Blow). Don’t Wake Me Up further honed Elverum’s meandering compositions and introduced some of the existential dread that he’d concern himself with ever more as he aged. Six albums in, It Was Hot, We Stayed In The Water was the most carefully constructed Microphones effort to date, but remained a decidedly lighter affair than the final two records that would follow under that first alias. Each of these albums hints at the great sprawl of his later work, but none teeters on the line between melancholia and surreal elevation as compellingly as The Glow Pt. 2.

With 20 tracks and 66 minutes situated neatly  across three sides of vinyl, the album is a masterwork of sequencing as it bleeds and blends from track to track. The chaos that punctuates “I Want The Wind To Blow” spills right over into the monolithic drum fills that open the title track. The two “(something)”s in the middle of side two provide monochromatic interludes in the midst of swirling bruises like “The Mansion” and “I’ll Not Contain You”. But as much as the record appears to work best in widescreen, no level of zoom reveals flaws in framing or composition.

While It Was Hot, We Stayed In The Water included traditional pop songs (a cover of Eric’s Trip’s “Sand” and “Karl Blau”) to stay the effects of its more gnarled structures, The Glow Pt. 2 basks in its gloomy twists and turns. Even “I’ll Not Contain You” and “I Felt Your Shape”, perhaps the album’s most straightforward numbers, conjure the gravity that marks so much of the record.

What ultimately makes The Glow Pt. 2 so relatable even in the midst of its impenetrable couplets is Elverum’s dedication to recovery. Just as the record gets darkest, as Elverum heaves his heaviest existential sighs or lets fly with some of his most tenebrous proto-Sunn O))) fuzz, the sun peeks out from behind the clouds. Over his career, and perhaps most clearly in his work as Mount Eerie, Elverum’s songs serve not just as ruminations on life, love, nature, and human sexuality but celebrations, however shadowy, of those same concepts. “Samurai Sword”, “Map”, “The Glow Pt. 2”, and “I Want To Be Cold” all feature Elverum’s most frigid and tempestuous fuzz bombs–glowering thunderclouds of guitar in full corpse paint. But even as he displays his predilection for the darker arts, Elverum paints the lighter side just as evocatively.

The sun breaks through and Elverum’s resigned moans give way to acceptance. On “I Felt My Size”, over billowing smoke clouds of blown-out bass, Elverum makes a rare move to his upper register to shout “I’m small/ We are all.” It’s a huge sentiment packed into a tiny moment of music, poignant and triumphant, even as it expresses a defeatist’s lament. “You’ll Be In The Air”, similarly, is pure ascension. Situated between two of the most desolate tracks on the record, Elverum’s high pitched yawp cracks and breaks in pure ecstasy (likely sexual) in the midst of his domestic surrealism. Deep in boredom there’s bliss. After anguish comes rapture.

That’s Elverum at his best, shouting little truths at the void, building instrumental tracks weighty enough to parallel his ever-weighty concerns. Before The Glow Pt. 2 his efforts to bottle those parts of him were compelling, but they needed the unrelenting darkness that he was finally willing to fully plunge into. His subsequent works as Mount Eerie have been compelling for similar reasons, but with the exception of Wind’s Poem and Ocean Roar, albums more clearly the product of his fascination with black metal, Elverum has never again attempted to couple instrumental brownouts and the sort of deep introspection that marks The Glow Pt. 2. There were demons to excise, questions to address, and searching to be done. On four sides of vinyl he was able to trap those demons and answer some questions, but fortunately his searching was not yet done. It still isn’t.

Essential Tracks: ”The Glow Pt. 2″, “I Felt My Size”, “You’ll Be In The Air”