Friday, April 11, 2008

The Glow Pt. 2 by the Microphones (2008 deluxe remastered reissue)

I can't believe it has been seven years since The Glow Pt. 2 was first released (and six years since I first heard it). Now, listening to the 2008 reissue with 20 additional tracks (subtitled "Other Songs and Destroyed Versions") — available on 2 CDs or 3 LPs — the most amazing thing about revisiting it is not that it still stands up, but that it still seems very ahead of its time, even today. (The extra tunes are interesting in context — especially the "destroyed" versions that comprise 14 of the 20 additional tracks — but are not vital to the casual listener.)

The Glow Pt. 2 has long been described as Phil Elverum's masterpiece, and I have to still agree. Its songs flow together wonderfully whether you listen to them individually or in mind of the improvised concept (tied together sonically by the tugboat sounds played underneath throughout — they're very clear during the quiet spots).

And listening with headphones enhances the experience. In fact, I would have to say that the sonic depth is so amazing that headphones are vital to experiencing the full majesty of The Glow Pt. 2. And Elvrum's sweet, high voice adds to the effect. On no other album have I felt as if the music entered through my ears and swam around for a while, not quite able to escape.

This is all because Elvrum (later Elverum) was not afraid of experimentation. Each song has its own distinctive sound. The dual acoustic-guitar sound at the front of "The Moon" has to be heard to be believed. (For the origin of that sound, listen to "The Pull" from It Was Hot, We Stayed in the Water.) And his creativity is always surprising. What seems at first like noise, after a few listens unfolds itself like a blooming bud to reveal all its layers. Only after repeated listens do you come to appreciate the imagination — one would almost say "genius" — involved in the making of The Glow Pt. 2.

But even such a personal record cannot be done alone — not and remain faithful to its analog roots. Several of Elvrum's friends helped out. Most noticeable are the angelic voices of Khaela Maricich (of The Blow) and Mirah on a few tracks. I became a Mirah-phile through my research on this album. In fact, over the past six years, I have become rather well versed in the K catalog — from Little Wings to Tender Forever, from Beat Happening to Old Time Relijun — and it all started with this album.

For a while, Elvrum seemed to embrace his soundscaping abilities, agreeing to produce albums for his friends (Mirah's C'mon Miracle and Jason Anderson's New England come first to mind), but after the release of the more ambitious (but less accessible) Mount Eerie, things took a different turn. He changed the name of his band to the name of that album, and the music became more stripped down and even indie-er than ever before once he opened his own label, P.W. Elverum and Sun. (For example, one of the first Mount Eerie releases, Eleven Old Songs from Mount Eerie, merely contained Elverum's vocals accompanied by an old Casio keyboard.) The last we heard from "the Microphones" was a live album that managed to consist of all new material (Live in Japan February 19th, 21st, and 22nd, 2003) and a 7" single containing a couple of daily-life-oriented protest songs ("Don't Smoke" and "Get Off the Internet").

But, though Elverum is currently serving a different muse than the one who led him to create The Glow Pt. 2 (and I don't fault him for that — you've got to follow your bliss, and he does it to the hilt), it's nevertheless great to be able to go back in time, so to speak, and recapture the days when a guy with a vision, immense creativity, and some friends combined to make the first great album of the 21st century.

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