Concept albums are BACK! The best one last year was about a karate chick fighting robots, but concept albums are, obviously, only about half good. Why? Because the concept has to actually be appealing and make sense. For every Berlin there’s a Tommy, and for every Flaming Lips there’s a Microphones, or, more appropriately, a single Phil Elvrum — who evidently studies grammar with 50 Cent or the guy who made “8 Mile.” Elvrum has built an album around balls of fire, hiking up a mountain, a valley, and another mountain. Whatever–this is more like that guy in Annie Hall who thinks that with money, he can turn a notion into a concept and then, hopefully, an idea. Elvrum lacked that last spurt of ambition, though, and the Microphones’ Mount Eerie sounds like the most endless 50-second drunken urination fit you’ll ever have.
When I first heard the Microphones shockingly split up a week ago, I thought it was a joke. I always thought the group was one guy who spent all his time in the studio and churned out interesting music like the penultimate The Glow, Pt. 2. After listening to Mount Eerie I discovered that my guess was even more correct than the headlines. Famous for innovative instrumentation, Elvrum fires the burners on this album and comes up with an inventive yet sparse yet complex yet BORING sound. I can’t be sure, but I think there’s a hair-dryer on track three. Or is it four? Did that musician also play the jug on track five? There are five tracks and I’ll be damned if I care to tell the difference between them. I’d sit through John Cage’s experiments in silence for four minutes (maybe), but there’s no chance in hell I’m going to sit through 40 minutes of Phil Elvrum.
Not only is the sound lobotomizing, the concept is so pretentious and embryonic that I had to literally steal away to the bathroom, regrettably without a laxative but with album notes, to make sense of what was on the stereo. I laughed hysterically when I realized that Elvrum himself didn’t have the slightest idea what he was doing. He named track V (that’s the Roman Numeral Five) after track I (1) — Universe. “My god,” I thought reading over the concept again, “it IS interesting.” When I emerged, clear of any obstruction and ready to immerse myself in the album, the first thing I heard was wind. Ooh, it must have been windy, but not as windy and exciting as the BLIZZARD OF 2003, whose aftermath I stared at for the remaining 10 minutes of the album.
My life was not changed by Mount Eerie, and probably neither was Elvrum’s. All through the album he sings and sounds exactly like Mark Linkous must have sounded in the throes of heroin withdrawal. Repeated listenings might spark my enthusiasm, but I’d much rather spend an hour listening to music.