The Microphones - The Glow Pt. 2 (Cover Artwork)

The Microphones

The Glow Pt. 2 (2001)


Scott reviewed an earlier album by the Microphones (found here), saying basically that the shit in question that the Microphones make is fucked up. The Microphones -- joining the Oberst Association of Solo Artists That Use a Band Name -- is the brainchild of Phil Elvrum, formally of Old Time Relijun. Phillip has specialized in making trippy, lo-fi, sublime folk music for some time now, but most of it ended up getting lost in just how fucked up it was.

To be fair, his music is not really "fucked up," it's just different. The Locust and Mr. Bungle make "fucked up" music; the Microphones make simple, lo-fi pop, and above all else, highly original music. I don't know what Phil actually looks like, but I'm assuming (more hoping actually) that he sports a Sam Beam style ultra-beard. Not that this sounds like Iron & Wine, but I feel that if you like Sam Beam's tunes you might like the Microphones. If you like Animal Collective, definitely check this out. This is the sound of outdoor living, capturing the beauty of nature through utter minimalism. And as far as Elvrum's transcendental nature rock goes, this is his magnum opus.

The Glow Pt. 2 is massive in vision. Over an hour divided into 20 different tracks seems overbearing at first. Usually when I see an album with more than 14 tracks, I start thinking that the band just threw everything they wrote onto their disc. This is why I avoided listening to it for about six months. When I eventually did get around to it, I decided I should always listen to highly recommended music as soon as possible.

The listener is greeted by the gentle, nylon-stringed acoustic strumming of "I Want Wind To Blow." The guitars, the barely-there percussion in the background, and the slight fuzz of Phil's voice combine to create a setting for the listener; "The thunder clouds broke up, and the rain dried up, the lightning let up, the clacking shutters just shut up," Elvrum sings, the music perfectly representing the calm after a thunderstorm. He sings of negative feelings about the city; he wants the wind to blow him away from urban society and lift him away from everything. The song breaks way into an instrumental jam, giving the feeling of gradual lifting away from the earth up into the sky. It builds and builds and finally crescendos into the title track, a fuzzy, super distorted, and ethereal song.

This album is the sound of the post-apocalypse. It sounds as if Elvrum is wishing for an escape in the first track, and with the second track's blaring drums and distorted guitar attack, the world is being violently destroyed. It sounds like meteors, tidal waves, and volcanos blowing the world apart. On the title track, Elvrum sings that "the glow is gone;" he feels something is missing. In perhaps the most jarringly lyrical moment on the album, Elvrum coos "I could not get through September without a battle; I faced death, I went in with my arms swinging, but I heard my own breath, and had to face that I'm still living, I'm still flesh; I hold onto awful feelings." When you hear his Jeff Magnum-inspired vocals breathing these words out, you just have to sit there and say "damn."

From here on out, the album is a journey into the wilderness. The best albums travel somewhere, and this one is a clear path. The sequencing is perfect; we feel Elvrum slip farther away from who he was at the beginning of the CD, to find out who he becomes at the end. The album slides from drop-dead beauty -- instrumentally and lyrically, in songs like "Headless Horseman" and "I Felt My Size" -- to intense, ghostly sounds -- especially in the track "Something," whose strange muted sounds reappear throughout the album. The second-to-last song, "Samurai Sword," is intense to the point where the melody cannot even be heard, segueing into album-closer "My Warm Blood." It is the perfect ending to an amazing album, as Elvrum sings "I'm all alone, except for the sound of insects flying around, they know my red blood is warm still." Immediately the instruments float away and we are left with an 8-minute loop of a slowly pulsating, muffled bass sound. Slowly, up out of the mix, a drum hits, in a heartbeat pattern slowly, and suddenly it stops, and the album is over. Where the opening creates visions of the sun rising over a silent city, the end leaves us with a lone moon hovering quietly above the rubble of that same place.

However hyperbolic my review turned out, I still mean every word. The Microphones are brilliant at setting up landscapes for the listener. This album is beautiful in its hope and pain, and, ultimately, its triumph. Elvrum sings on album standout "My Roots Are Strong And Deep:" "I feel tall, my feet are on the ground, but compared to you, I'm small." He has created an album that is small; he knows that he's a solitary man, but the scope of his music is massive.