It Was Hot, We Stayed in the Water
P.W. Elverium & Sun, 2000
Review by Kent Manthie
Way, way back in the beginning of the 21st Century, Phil Elverium’s music experience, The Microphones, put out an iconoclastic, archetypal CD entitled It Was Hot, We Stayed in the Water. Thirteen years later, Phil is re-releasing it as a special vinyl release on his own label, P.W. Elverium & Sun. “The Glow” is one of the highlights of this beautiful album. Probably one of the best albums to come out in the past 15 years that you (probably) never heard. Created in the image of the Velvet Underground and their second LP, White Light, White Heat, It Was Hot… displays a real sense of Lou Reed’s artistic sensibilities. It’s, of course, not any type of VU “sound-alike”, but one on which you can hear their influence seeping through. And then there’s the fact that there are many who entangle their thinking of the Velvets with Andy Warhol, because of the early relationship between the band and Andy, playing at Drella’s fabulous Factory parties throughout the mid-late sixties. Andy, just like Lou, was the ultimate iconoclast, especially for the times. Warhol was only a slice of the complexities of Lou Reed’s brilliance – Reed’s always been a top-notch songwriter, a musician and was destined to be groovy and great, with or without Warhol. In the years ahead, Lou and Andy maintained a “come-and-go” relationship but the one thing that stitched the two’s work together was the backdrop of New York, especially Downtown, Soho, Lower East Side, Bowery and all that but inveighed with a rough romanticism. On It Was Hot… Phil’s Microphones took pieces of Reed and Warhol visions of urban depravity made beautiful, sympathetic and very romanticized. A catastrophe of sound sweeps up and gets re-purposed for a new generation, hungry for a new and deeper sound, a smarter pop music and a re-tooling of the so-called ephemeral. Even the deadpan singing that juxtaposed the sensitive backing music, Phil really channels Reed’s laconic survivor moods, bringing to the new age a remodeled, redone banana or Campbell’s Soup Can. The Microphones music has a mind-skating that picks up the low-key anti-establishment ethos that the Velvets weren’t necessarily known for, no, that idea was there, but in its attitude, not an overt part of their act. That is hindsight for you; but for those who are hearing It Was Hot… for the first time, you’re in for a real bang-up treat, a trainwreck that splashes catalogues of images in your mind.
It’s a great treat to be able to be given a second chance to get at an album that, I, for one, missed the first time around and, I bet, so did a lot of otherwise well-intentioned people. On “Drums” you get treated to more than just a “drum solo”, but rather more like a three-minute performance of a drum corps that is collaborating with a guy behind a drum kit. It has a march cadence to it at first that, in the end, switches to a mellowing out wrap-up of cymbal crashes and drum rolls. Onward, “The Gleam” is a guitar-heavy song with heavy feedback and distorted ringing ear-splitting guitar that overwhelms the vocals a little, but not too much. But, again, I must mention the 11 minute “The Glow”, which, since we were discussing the Velvet Underground, is the one tune on here that does have that laconic, intelligent, world-weary attitude that isn’t a copy-cat or a rip-off, but a tune that is a breath of fresh air, a void filled in where apathy and isolation live. One other great tune on here is “Something”; a 4.5 minute guitar noise/feedback song that overlays some delicate female crooning. The juxtaposition is what makes it such a grabber. Also, “Between Your Ear and the Other Ear” is reminiscent of Maureen Tucker’s vocalizing on such VU classics as the closing song on their 3rd album, the eponymous, black covered album, which is released after John Cale leaves and replacement, Doug Yule comes on board, “After Hours”. While “Between Your Ear and the Other” isn’t a replication of “After Hours”, it still has a ringing similarity.
By coincidence, or not, I do have another Microphones CD to review, which will be showing up soon, another “oldie” that’s miraculously been resurrected from potential obscurity to be introduced to a new audience and see where it takes it. I look forward to sharing it with you. Until then – keep digging for that musical gold! -KM.
[ps I apologize for the bad turnout of the printing (the darkened paragraphs) – hope you can still read it all right- km]