The Microphones The Microphones in 2020 P. W. Elverum & Sun, Ltd
Everything that can be said objectively about The Microphones in 2020 is on the tin. It’s a meditation on The Microphones from a present-day perspective; a 44-minute song that sees Phil Elverum dust off his first fully formed and widely influential project for the first time in 17 years and consider its weight, like an old keepsake unearthed during a clear-out.
In one freewheeling autobiographical movement, he chronicles life as a 20-something working in a record shop, making music and putting it out under a moniker that would continue to have a life of its own even after Elverum stopped using it. Having spent the last two decades releasing music primarily as Mount Eerie, whose last three albums were heart-shattering reflections on the death of his wife Geneviève Castrée, Elverum now looks back to the beginning.
Taking almost a year to write and record, the song is intended to “break the spell of nostalgia and make something perennial and enduring”, as Elverum puts it on the one-sheet. The lyrics delve meticulously into the mist of the past as he sings about checking the band Hotmail account, doing the dishes, contemplating the moon and other trivial activities that feel significant when you’re young. It opens sparsely – the same two chords loop for over seven minutes, played on the same $5 guitar used on early Microphones tapes – but electric guitar, bass, keys and percussion are introduced as the song builds and fills in; a life gaining detail. Crescendos are reached and repealed, but the instrumental returns faithfully to those first two chords, thrumming rhythmically and reliably like a heartbeat.
Building to an almost apathetically-made point about existence, ephemeral and enduring as it is, The Microphones in 2020 unspools like a western novel. Trundling through an expansive but fraught landscape, the narration is preoccupied with minutiae because the true meaning is so large, so fundamental, it’s best stirred up through feeling rather than explained.