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Spotlight on: 11 Old Songs of Mount Eerie by Mount Eerie

Cover image/photo of 11 Old Songs of Mount Eerie by Mount Eerie Mount Eerie, 11 Old Songs of Mount Eerie

Ever wonder what Phil Elverum did during his fabled Norway vacation of years past? You probably already knew that he changed the name of his band from "The Microphones" to "Mount Eerie" (Mount Eerie was then the current Microphones album) and altered the spelling of his surname (originally Elvrum) to coincide with the Norwegian town (and from which, one presumes, his family originates).

You also are probably aware that he wrote a lot of songs, many of which have appeared on various albums since, most notably Live in Japan February 19th, 21st, and 22nd, 2003, the transitional last album by "The Microphones" (which contains this album's "Great Ghosts" and "I Love (It) So Much") Eleven Old Songs of Mount Eerie collects some of the Norway tunes for posterity. It is Elverum's way of getting them down in a final state, of finishing with them so he can move on to newer music.

According to the promo sheet, the album is recorded in the style of such seminal albums as Ten New Songs by Leonard Cohen and Arise Therefore by Will Oldham (but not, interestingly enough, Elverum's own Seven New Songs of Mount Eerie, which offers fuller versions of a couple of these songs -- which, of course brings up the question how can a song be both "new" and "old"? I guess it's all relative).

Eleven Old Songs of Mount Eerie presumably contains some of the first songs that were created under the "Mount Eerie" moniker, which makes them over three years old. Given Elverum's prolificity of songwriting (this is his third album in just over three months -- see No Flashlight and Singers), it's no wonder he has lost interest in pursuing these songs further, not even bothering to add any of the usual embellishment that would make them sound like the usual Elverum product. He has merely chosen to sing them accompanied solely (for the most part) by an old Casio keyboard.

I, for one, found this to be a huge disappointment. This bare bones approach is not what I came to enjoy so much about the previous Microphones albums. Elverum's songwriting is stunning as always -- he manages to say a lot in just a few simple, well chosen words -- but it was his innovation in the studio that originally made me a fan of his work (both on his own albums and when producing the work of others -- hear Mirah's "Cold Cold Water" for a peak example).

There is not even the wonderful percussion skill that he has shown since his earliest days on the Anacortes music scene as a founding member of D+; he has instead chosen to use the canned beats from the keyboard, making several of the songs sound as if they were recorded in the same room as a Sega tournament. But don't get me wrong, 11 old songs of Mount Eerie is better than any 40 songs off the radio -- even satellite radio -- plus, there's that nice little two-minute bit of wind at the end of track three, "The Boom."

Yes, I was disappointed by the execution of these songs for the most part, but only because I've been a witness to what Elverum can do when he puts forth his full effort. Under whatever name he decides to record, he is still putting out some of the best music available (even as it becomes increasingly less available to the general public), and I still intend on keeping up with whatever he does.

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