I honestly believe that next guest contributor for “Songwriter’s Point of View” needs no introduction. Bro. Stephen (Stephen Scott Kirkpatrick by birth) has released one of my favorite albums of 2012 (thus far), Baptist Girls, so I’m not sure what more I can say about the man other than he is a great gift to the indie-folk community.
I have spent most of the last few weeks (correction: months) trying to think of a record that I should talk about other than Mount Eerie’s Lost Wisdom. This is the first record I thought of writing about for this piece, but it is the last one I wanted to write about. The reasons for that are pretty simple. This record has affected me greatly and as an artist I am secretly terrified that I rip it off constantly. I don’t think I actually do (correct me if I’m wrong), but it definitely changed my brain and altered my perception of aesthetics when I first heard it. I remember where I was when I first heard it. My buddy Mike gave me an “evaluation copy” of it while he was visiting me in Louisville. I was sitting in the front room of the house I shared with the guys from my old band. Mike had just played me a song on the guitar that ended up being the single to his awesome first solo record, and while we were talking about music he told me, “Hey, I think you’ll dig this. It’s good.” I listened to one song and knew that I was hearing something that resonated with me in a way that I hadn’t thought about before. I didn’t just think that the music sounded nice, or that the guy wrote good lyrics, or a number of other reasons why I like record. I was attracted to all of that at the same time while being entranced by the approach to the recording of the record. It didn’t hit me instantly what made the songs so pleasantly disarming, but I knew there was something special about it.
After months of listening to nothing but this record, I was able to figure a few things out for myself. This was recorded almost entirely live with very few overdubs except for a few harmonies and overlays. This was done with exactly three people. Phil Elverum playing a nylon-stringed acoustic guitar and singing, Julie Doiron singing harmonies/melodies, and Fred Squire playing a fuzzed-out electric guitar in the background occasionally are really the only sounds on this record.
If you’re not familiar with Mount Eerie, then I guess I can tell you that Mount Eerie is the musical project of Phil Elverum who resides in Anacortes, Washington. You may also know Phil from his early work (which is similar in approach and aesthetic) when he played under the name The Microphones and released one of the greatest releases of the last decade called The Glow, Pt. 2. Shamefully, I wasn’t familiar with Phil’s work until Mike gave me this record and I quickly delved into his back catalog and found a songwriter who had a unique and gentle way of subverting the modern song in subtle and powerful ways. He is a bit of a chameleon, which I really like because the songs are personal and natural and I think it’s natural for an artist to express himself with a base aesthetic while manipulating that in tertiary ways. There are chasms of style lying between each record he makes, but they are always obviously Mount Eerie songs. Right after this haunted masterpiece of a record, Mount Eerie released a pummeling record called Winds Poem that could almost be described as “black metal.” Other releases of his contain some of the same songs performed different ways with shared lyrics, themes, and identities which blur the lines of what an artist is much the same way that Elverum’s contemporaries like Will Oldham and Jason Molina have done.
There are a few elements that are pretty obvious upon first listen which have unpacked to mean more to me than I initially took them. Some of those elements are the following: short songs, constantly shifting harmonies/melody interplay, plain-spoken language, spatial intimacy, and imagery from the natural world. The opening line of this record really sets the tone for the whole record.
“I got close enough to the river that I couldn’t hear the trucks, but not close enough to stop the roaring of my mind.”
Here you find a lot of the themes and conflicts within and outside of the artist which are expounded upon throughout the rest of the record. It is the artist at war with a world that is moving too fast, at war with his/her internal self, and the understanding of one’s self through the terms of the natural world surrounding. The entrance of the harmonies on the wordless tag on the end of this opening line also sets us up for what to expect on the rest of the record as well: the harmony is not crisp or perfect and it is interacting with the melody so frequently in interesting ways that it sounds like a conversation. If you listen carefully, you’ll notice that the harmonic conversation between Doiron and Elverum is so fluid and so reciprocal that at times it’s tough to tell who has the melody and who is singing the harmony. Sometimes they switch in the middle of the line even, and it is this ebb and flow that really provides the record with the underbelly of personality and warmth that connected with me so strongly. It’s almost as if we are listening in to the quiet moments between two lovers balancing love and complacency or maybe it’s the inner world of someone who has come to grips having multiple voices driving their decisions. It’s a complex structure to be sure, but it is also one that oozes comfort and discord in the same breath and often in the same note. That is certainly a sentiment that rings true for me.
This record turns over and over in my head in a way that I can’t help but mull over every aspect in a way that sends me into a vortex of crazy. Seriously, I could go on and on and turn over every leaf on this record, but it wouldn’t make you want to listen to it and it will just make me feel like an obsessive weirdo. My favorite track on the record is undoubtedly “With My Hands Out” which is a perfect novella of renewal and redemption like a dream where you can’t tell if it was good or bad. The power of this record lies in the imagery it conjures and explains: a burning house in the mountains, a stone skipped in a black lake, the isolation of a hiker surrounded by nature, a night swim, coming across a poisonous snake in one’s front yard. These are a few of the characters and scenes in Lost Wisdom which couple the darkness of Poe, the starkness of Hemingway, and the rural-ity of Thoreau. It’s beautiful and imperfect in all the right moments.
“With My Hands Out”
Bro. Stephen: Website; Facebook; Twitter
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Mount Eerie: Website; Facebook; Tumblr
Purchase Lost Wisdom