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Mount Eerie with Julie Doiron & Fred Squire - Lost Wisdom

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Artist: Mount Eerie with Julie Doiron & Fred Squire

Album: Lost Wisdom

Label: P.W. Elverum & Sun

Review date: Oct. 2, 2008

On his second album It Was Hot, We Stayed in the Water, the Microphones Phil Elverum recorded a cover of Eric’s Trip’s "Sand," paying homage to one of his favorite bands. Eric’s Trip was, by nature, hard to pin down, incorporating harsh, industrial-strength feedback, aggressively lo-fi production and bubblegum pop melodies in a volatile mix of sounds. After the band broke up, bassist Julie Doiron went the solo route, both under her own name and as Broken Girl, often exploring a delicate, acoustic, obliquely confessional aesthetic not too far removed from Elverum’s own. On Lost Wisdom, the two work together for the first time, with Doiron singing 10 Elverum songs.

Elverum and Doiron both have a knack for absolute simplicity. Lost Wisdom is not a long album – clocking in at just under 25 minutes – nor is it especially elaborate. Most of the songs rely on voice and guitar alone to make their case. And yet, how splendid they are, layered and looped in madrigals rounds and descants ("Voice in Headphones") or nakedly unadorned ("Flaming Home").

Still, no matter how lush or spare the vocal arrangements become, the voices themselves remain clear and simple. Elverum and Doiron often join in very tight, mildly dissonant, minor harmonies, the timbres of their two voices melding into one flickering tone. There is no vibrato, no growls or shrieks, almost no dynamic variation. If you had to pick an instrument to approximate their singing, it would have to be the recorder, blown softly and melancholically, without trills or flourishes. By shunning all vocal tricks, Elverum and Doiron arrive at a purity that is in no way dumbed down.

Doiron has brought along guitar player Fred Squire for the sessions, and he, too, hits an almost mystical level of simplicity. Consider, for instance, "Oh My Heart,” the penultimate song, where a series of splayed chords mutate into surreal, blues-tinged guitar picking. The playing is luminous and sustained, its notes left to twist and change in the air. Squire manages to sound as radiant as Hisato Higuchi or even Loren Mazzacane Connors without ever overshadowing the singers.

The production is minimal, as well. In the quiet between the songs, you can always hear the hiss of tape (which I notice because it disappears during the iTunes-artificial break between cuts). But still, this rough-hewn-ness is anything but limiting. The parts are eeriely clear and distinct. There is a sense of air and space in the mix, as well as natural life. It is as if these songs had been recorded in some rustic ruined cathedral, with moss growing between the stones.

Elverum wrote all these songs, some specifically for the record and others earlier, and his lyrics have the same pristine, unpremediated grace as the music. "What I find will be found easily / and only when I’m not looking for it," he sings, in close tandem with Doiron in "Oh My Heart." It is a lovely, unfussy, unslaved-over line in an album that is full of them, a testament to being in tune with your muse.

By Jennifer Kelly

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