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Spotlight on: Singers by Singers

Cover image/photo of Singers by Singers Singers, Singers

Throughout his career, Phil Elverum has often gathered friends in the studio during recording sessions to just lay down some extemporaneous tracks with a campfire singalong feel, often just using a single microphone in the center of the room. These gatherings have been the highlight of more than one album. Owners of Song Islands will recognize "I Can't Believe You Actually Died" (this version sounds like a different version, although it could just be an alternate take), and even Jason Anderson's New England (which Elverum produced) features this approach on its centerpiece, "Hold On."

Now Elverum (Microphones / Mount Eerie) has released several of these one-of-a-kind performances on one album called Singers (which is also the name of the "band" -- it's their debut) on his own P.W. Elverum and Sun label. It begins like any other Phil Elverum project, with his own plaintive solo voice. Listening to him singing the first few verses, it's easy to get swept up in his personal emotion so that the choral interruption becomes completely unexpected -- and all the more powerful for it. Unfortunately, the repeated refrain of "Let's Get Out of the Romance" -- even when punctuated by Elverum's lyrical counterpoint -- becomes a hypnotic drone, like a polysyllabic om. A similar effect is achieved on "Do Not Be Afraid" (it's also one of three songs that come in at just over a minute), but it flows instantly into the next track, "Where Is My Tarp?" which is a definite highlight, with the extra voices uses mostly for background color.

Another highlight is the wonderful "Human," which is hypnotic in the best way, eliciting a swaying response that is hard to keep in check (this is important to remember if you're going to listen to this on a crowded train). Also featured is a rendition of the Little Wings Light Green Leaves tune "Uh-Oh, It's Morning Time Again" (here titled "Ut-Oh! It's Mourning Time Again"), which shines a light on one of the flaws in the recording: the production, meaning there isn't much. The sound quality varies from track to track along with the fidelity. I found myself having to turn the volume up or down based on the requirements of each song. Leaving conversations recorded before or after songs, or letting us hear when the record button is pressed, adds to the album's charm, but some of its ultra-DIY aspects took me out of the flow, making it a mixed experience that will likely be trying to new listeners.

Also, there's no real theme to this collection of songs, which can make transitions jarring, but those who stick around will be rewarded with surprises: since Singers spans a five-year period, several of Elverum's K Records cohorts appear on songs, like Mirah, Khaela Maricich of The Blow, Calvin Johnson, and Kyle Field of Little Wings (and I think Jason Anderson plays guitar on one track). Loyal Microphones/Mount Eerie fans are undoubtedly going to want to pick up a copy, but it is likely to strike the best chord with those who enjoyed the eclectic nature of the Microphones rarities collection Song Islands and Mirah and Ginger's escape-to-Carolina venture Songs from the Black Mountain Music Project. Like the Mount Eerie release No Flashlight, this album comes in an LP + CD package.

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