The band The Microphones is the brain-child of Phil Elvrum, of Olympia, Wash. Outside of Elvrum, the band includes a changing roster of his musical pals. Their newest album, “The Glow Part II,” will be released on the 25th and is the follow-up to 2000’s “It Was Hot, We Stayed In The Water.” The previous album was also low-fi but more meticulously so.
This is music crafted through its imperfections. Many tracks possess a rawness that is handled with a rare subtlety. Elvrum comes across as incredibly intimate as he whispers, lilts and belts his elusively beautiful lyrics. Although his singing style is loose and his voice comes across as technically poor, it fits the album perfectly — the voice is inextricable from the recordings. Also, the drum set sounds like it is being recorded under a blanket. The way this rawness is integrated makes what would in other contexts be considered errors, some of the crucial elements of the texture in the recordings, lending intimacy, a fuzzed energy, a moist breath. This loose style of recording has a feeling of freeness and human closeness, but even at its most distant points it is within Elvrum’s control, repeatedly emphasized or pulled back as the track dictates.
Even through the sad chords of the second song (an oddly interesting placement for such dark sentiment) there is a feeling of playfulness, of letting the music move where it will without being checked from the outside. There is something of humor about it. The album is largely acoustic, but doesn’t come off as an acoustic album. It’s electronic, but doesn’t feel electronic, distorted but doesn’t feel distorted. The music has a sense of all of these varied instruments and musical styles coming and leaving naturally.
Some have compared The Microphones’ tracks to the later, more experimental and orchestral Beach Boys output of 1966-67 (Brian Wilson in his genius phase). Elvrum incorporates a huge variety of emotional colors and instrumentation — the album abounds with melodicas, saxophones, strange synth noises, triangles, banjo strumming and layered vocals. I heard that he makes his own distortion pedals.
Through its idiosyncratic mix of styles, the album has the stamp of one voice. The songs fit together as a unified piece and don’t come across as thrown together. A distant and ambiguous low note (a foghorn?) sounds between several tracks, and even in the background in one of them.
“The Headless Horseman,” “The Mansion,” “I Want Wind To Blow,” “My Warm Blood”: the song titles taken together hint at a private constellation of metaphors, uniquely personal.
It has parts that rock pretty hard — with snare, guitar and bass — but the vocals maintain a smoothness on top of the craziness. They even harmonize over the smashing snares. On a lot of Elvrum’s albums, there are several drum sets playing the same rhythm together, creating slight variations. Panning also plays a major role in “The Glow Part II,” with a single guitar part being rapidly divided between the left and right channels.
While the new album is not necessarily representative of most of Elvrum’s output, it is congruous. For those of you who haven’t heard of The Microphones but are curious about what rock is up to in 2001, the release of this album could mark the time for you to check them out. Feel good about that?