Seventeen years after their last studio album, The Microphones, an experimental folk rock project led by Phil Elverum, have released a single 44-minute track, aptly named “Microphones in 2020,” that serves as a memoir of Elverum's life.
Throughout the runtime, Elverum runs a loosely-spun thread through almost three decades of his music career, reflecting on both his own personal growth and the evolution of his music in a way that is both deeply intimate and almost entirely foreign to listeners.
Following 2019's “Lost Wisdom, pt.2” and 2018's “Now Only,” both released by Elverum under the name Mount Eerie, Elverum has returned to previous project The Microphones to release “Microphones in 2020,” which was accompanied by a short film that Elverum live-streamed on YouTube, where it is now available.
Elverum has chosen not to release the album on streaming services, instead encouraging fans to "pay the people who make what [they] love. It's very simple." [@PWElverum on Twitter]
As the album opens, the soft, cascading murmur of guitars fill the stage, slowly shifting and evolving for the first seven minutes before Elverum's soft-spoken lyrics begin to drift atop them.
He focuses on a broad story, painting and filling the traveled, worn-down halls of his life with sprawling, subtle metaphors not unlike a Van Gogh painting — indicative not of what is present now, but of what once was and now lasts in memory.
Unraveling, the lyrics are vulnerable yet cryptic, providing a sense of mysticism and a broad vagueness that feels like a dream, both resonating deeply and feeling completely foreign. Vast descriptions of nature and Elverum's experiences within it call to the immense mythos surrounding the American wilderness.
As the track progresses, the guitars evolve from a simple melody to interspersed, distorted riffs, creating an emotional backdrop for Elverum's now-objective lyrics. As he plainly describes a moment, its significance is shown not through description, but through the powerful sounds surrounding it.
During the final minutes, as the instruments die down, the album ventures into self-reference, moving from abstract descriptions to a concrete timeframe in which Elverum describes the history of The Microphones and another project called “Mount Eerie.” Through these descriptions, it feels as if Elverum is standing atop a mountain, gazing from the summit back at the trail he walked throughout his life. While this portion asks a very in-depth knowledge of his previous works, it does not demand it and can hold meaning — albeit to a lesser degree — to a listener unfamiliar with Elverum's past works.
Listening to “Microphones in 2020,” there is not only the presence of Elverum's lyrics and stories, but the energy that the album creates — natural, almost-droning instrumentation that sways between crisp clarity and muddied distortion that summons an almost-tangible presence and energy, which makes Elverum's nostalgia into your own.
As the album ends, it closes not with the static of empty vinyl, but with the soft howling of the wind. Similar to the epic poems of ancient Greece, Elverum's words tell not only an objective story but an entrancing narrative that spans the greater part of a human life.
While each portion of “Microphones in 2020” feels individual and whole on its own, they connect together to create a sprawling mosaic. While Elverum's latest work may not appeal to everyone due to its 44-minute runtime, slow progression and homemade sound, his skills and wisdom as an artist and as a storyteller are clear and provide a beautiful insight into a common life.
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