P.W. Elverum & Sons, Inc., 2013
Review by Kent Manthie
Coming out November 12th, on his new label, P.W. Elverum & Sons, Phil Elverum and his band Mount Eerie has released Pre-Human Ideas, an album that contains previously recorded tracks that appeared on two CDs released last year, Clear Moon and Ocean Roar.
The thing about Pre-Human Ideas, though, is that, although they’re not “new” songs, per se, they have been re-recorded, for one reason or another. Another different thing, for those of you who are part of the cult following that’s built up around Phil, you’ll notice that on the cover of Pre-Human Ideas instead of the usual abstract artwork or creative picture(s) that adorn the front has been changed this time to just a cover featuring a photograph of Phil and his computer. In a sense, I guess this picture may say something as well – that with this re-working of the songs from his albums from last year, he has done them over with the help of electronic tools, such as computers and synthesizers, et cetera.
Phil Elverum is definitely an interesting guy – besides the two CDs that he released last year, he also put out a 7” single on which the “A” side features all songs from Clear Moon, mixed all mashed-up, one on top of another, on top of another and so on, with the end result being a really wild cacophonous sonic experiment. Side “B” was the same thing, except the experiment was done with all the songs from the other album from 2012, Ocean Roar (or was it vice versa? -meaning Ocean Roar on side “A” and Clear Moon on side “B”? – I don’t want to have to come back and edit this later on upon finding out I got the information about the sides mixed up).
Anyway, back to Pre-Human Ideas: This is a smooth, mellow, electronic ride. Me, personally, I haven’t had the pleasure of hearing his previous work so I cannot compare this re-worked package to the original recordings, but just from listening to it and from what I’ve read about it on several musical sites and whatnot, I can only guess that this album takes the tunes from last year and electrifies them.
Apparently, according to various press releases and things, Pre-Human Ideas started out as “exploratory and instructional demos” meant to help teach the tunes to various incarnations of his touring bands. The album ultimately, though, expanded to a full-fledged CD that included crazy pitch-shifted and auto-tuned vocals, which really gives a touch of glass-like fragility to the CD. Phil’s voice, on the CD comes off as alien and unfamiliar with the electronic vibe. The electronic voice, at times transits between a feminine, robotic, sotto voce sound and a raspy voice that makes you think of cigarettes. Another change here is that many of the tunes have been stripped down, pared of excess baggage and minimalized, which gives it a different feel from what must have been a more humanistic feel on the originals.
Some of the re-done tunes that became familiar favorites to the faithful, including “House Shape”, “Lone Bell” and “The Place Lives” have become re-worked into something brand new but at the same time they should capture the minds of those who loved the originals. The final song on Pre-Human Ideas, “ORGANS (The Place Lives)”, a 2:38 instrumental tune, on this CD, made into an almost ominous, melancholy song has been stripped of all pretense and cover-up in order to do just what I mentioned: stand out starkly, bare and haunting. It is a perfect way to close out an album which is delightfully and wonderfully different from your average rock album. Then again, I find myself writing that same thing more and more these days – the fact that the album in question has a unique sensibility about it that doesn’t lend itself to comparisons to other bands or songwriters. This is a really promising sign, the fact that more and more these days, of the various new indie music CDs that I’ve been receiving for review, a lot of them either have gone in their own special, wholly original direction (well, it’s never quite wholly original: every artist, whatever the medium is: painting, sculpture, writing [prose/poetry/plays, etc.] or music, always has influences of some sort, it’s what he does with them and how he incorporates them into his work that make the difference).