Something “old” is “New” Again

The Microphones

The Glow, Pt. 2

Elverum Records, 2013 (originally released in 2001)

Reviewed by Kent Manthie

Over this past year – 2013, that is – Phil Elverum, main man of The Microphones – has been re-releasing the four great albums he and the Microphones put out 12-13 years ago. If you’ve been following this blog/review page, or whatever you want to call it, you’ll notice that I recently posted another review for It Was Hot, We Stayed in the Water an album originally released back in 2000. These are the only two original Microphones albums I’ve received (so far, anyway). I know that there are two other studio albums with all original material on it, one entitled Mount Eerie and the other, Don’t Wake Me Up. There is also a CD out there, with a compilation of various singles, one-offs, probably some B-side type material and maybe some previously unreleased material that didn’t make the final cull for any of their four albums. This ‘singles and rarities’ collection is called Song Islands.

Of the four original CDs, this one, The Glow, Pt. 2 is unquestionably the best-known Microphones album, best-selling and most critically acclaimed album (Named “Album of the Year” by Pitchfork Media).

But, anyone who has all four albums and gets a feel for how they sound and the little intricacies, one will, sooner or later, recognize a pattern that emerges as a part of each album. Separate, though they may be, they, nonetheless, contain similar musical, emotional and poetical shapes and sounds. There is this common thread that runs throughout all of their music, but without getting repetitive, sonically. Throughout the time they recorded, they were adept at mixing things up, not seeming to be stuck in box and still able to get their metaphysical message across.

On The Glow, Pt. 2, The Microphones are all over the place, but not jaggedly so. A lot of the album is mellow, detailed and interesting to hear. A few songs that stood out to me were: “The Mansion”, “Samurai Sword” and the closer, “My Warm Blood”, a 9:28 suite that perfectly wraps things up.

Don’t expect Phil and company to be hitting the road anytime soon as a re-formed Microphones. As Elverum put it: after the release of their final CD, Mount Eerie, he took a hard look back at the work he’d done over the previous five years or so, he realized that this fourth album was the culmination of what he had set out to do, musically and otherwise. So, instead of just banging out empty-headed CD after CD, he decided that right then and there (2003) that this was the “perfect” stopping point for The Microphones and that is really an attitude that I respect a LOT. As an example: years and years ago, when Bauhaus and Tones on Tail alumni Kevin Ash was interviewed he mentioned a similar idea: he said, in response to some stupid question about whether or not Bauhaus would ever get back together, something to the effect (I don’t have the answer verbatim) of “What were doing now is where we are [so to speak] – we don’t to dredge up the past: it’s over and done with, so why not look to the future”, or some such lofty words that, I thought, were some of the best, most upstanding observation that I’d heard in a long, long time. OK. That was in the early 90s or so. Fast forward to 1999 or about then and what happened? Bauhaus got back together – and, lucky for them, it was all the original guys: Peter, David J, Kevin and Dan. But when I heard that this was going to take place I immediately lost all respect I’d had for those guys. How can you tell me that, after only about 8 or 9 years, this lofty kind of idealism where “only-for-money” reunions of rock bands are seen as desperate attempts by members who are really too old to rock like a band of twenty-somethings (or even 30-somethings). It is nothing more than a thinly veiled attempt to make more money. Nothing more. They can always add, though, that they’re doing this in order to give the “new” generation of fans a taste of their live shows. But no matter what, a bunch of 50-60-somethings are not going to be as exciting to see onstage as four or five younger dudes (20s-30s). There does come a point after which there really is no critical, meaningful reason to keep on with the same old thing over and over, ad infinitum. Now, if you’ve been a “rocker” for a while, then went away for a while and now are back but doing a different kind of thing, that is another thing totally – you’re not a middle-aged guy (or woman) trying to please the same young audience as you used to, no, now you’re into a new kind of music or a combination of things that you’ve picked up in your experiences.

Anyway, that is basically the way Phil Elverum’s thinking went after the final Microphones CD came out. But, for you of the younger generation: you now have a 2nd chance to hear this really good stuff. It is a sound that is in a class by itself. Of course, it’s built around that basic “rock” vein, but there are so many busy layers that make their body of work up, it is so hard to pin a label on. Look ’em up on Amazon, or just put “The Microphones” in a search engine and pick out one of the many possibilities that come up. Great band. The great thing is that the music here, even though it’s not that old, still doesn’t sound dated in any way. This is because that Phil wasn’t following any sort of “fad” or “craze” that happened to be all over the place 13 years ago. He wasn’t looking all over to see what was the hip thing to do, no he was busy, using his brain to concoct a body of work that has really stood the test of time and is being given a second life. Those that missed it the first time, don’t miss this chance to hear something that is much better than most of the new stuff that is going around right now, in 2013.

I haven’t heard of any future plans for Phil at the moment. I think, maybe anyway, he’s concentrating on this project of getting all the Microphones’ stuff re-released and then, here’s hoping he’ll let us know what’s going on in that head of his. -KMMicrophones The Glow cover


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