Elverum’s ‘Microphones in 2020’ a stunning, relatable album

Brady Saylor

Phil Elverum has returned to his cult-classic folk project with a brand new record, “Microphones in 2020,” his first album from the Microphones name in 17-years.

After 17-years of absence from the Microphones name, Phil Elverum has returned to his cult-classic folk project with a brand new record, “Microphones in 2020,” released under his indie label “P.W. Elverum & Sun” earlier in August following teasers from Elverum’s website.

The album, one forty-four minute, self-titled track, despite the arduous length, is one of Elverum’s most indulgent, all-encompassing, and intellectually challenging albums yet, with poetic lyrics and gorgeous instrumentation, that can be appreciated by experimental aficionados and folk newcomers alike.

Filled with musical and lyrical references to Elverum’s previous work, “Microphones in 2020” appeals exponentially to those who are already fans of Elverum’s discography prior – though the lyricism and instrumentation can surely be appreciated by any fan of folk music.

The experimental release and song length, while challenging to new or casual listeners, serves great thematic importance in the music. Elverum himself said “Microphones in 2020” is “similar to extreme drone music, the way that it wears down at your sense of time and reality” in an interview with NPR.

The album debuted via an accompanying short film music video on YouTube featuring Elverum sorting through more than 800 personal photos of the places he’d traveled and people he’d met across his life; each photo correlating to the lyrics and themes of the album and being essential to understanding the emotional core of “Microphones in 2020.” The album acts as a literal and symbolic autobiographical journey through Elverum’s relation to music, life, people, the Earth, love, and the intertwining interactions each of these things have with each other throughout his personal and artistic history.

Elverum is able to tackle themes that ring as poignant both to the average listener and the passionate musician.

The album is filled to the brim with Elverum pondering on his realizations of life and music in his own abstractly poetic fashion – “the true state of all things, I keep on not dying, the sun keeps on rising / I remember my life as if it’s just some dreams that I don’t trust / trying to re-remind myself of something learned then forgotten.”

Alongside these are more directly autobiographical lyrics detailing Elverum’s formative life events that lead him to experience life the way he does, and what he truly aims to achieve with his music, with the Microphones, itself – “in the rain I stood glowing with ideas of what I might try to convey with this music / I brought back home belief I could create eternity… slowly starting to try to move the words beyond mere melancholy.”

Elverum’s deeply bittersweet, resonant lyrics feel even more powerful within the context of his life story; Elverum lost his wife in 2016, wrote about it in his Mount Eerie album “A Crow Looked At Me,” and now raises his child while continuing to contemplate the meanings of existence within his music. Elverum knows and portrays deep sorrow and indescribable, abstract pain unlike any other artist in music today.

Elverum’s poetic lyricism soaks within his gorgeous, natural soundscapes with a unity few artists in any medium are ever able to achieve. And while the absolute core of “Microphones in 2020”’s beauty lies in it’s thematic and emotional brilliance, the music does not fail to deliver.

While nothing uncharted for Elverum, the seven-minute instrumental intro consisting of two repeated chords — supposed to symbolize the 17-year gap since Mount Eerie — rambling vocals, luscious production, tight percussion, and close-up, homely mixing and mastering help carry “Microphones in 2020” from a winding poetic biography to an eternal, earthly soundscape.

For casual listeners, the extensive length, patient flow, and self-indulgent, non-traditional vocal style could prove challenging, though rewarding with repeated, intensive listens.

Stuffed with self-reference, musical anecdotes, and personal stories, “Microphones in 2020” is a dream for passionate musicians, average listeners, and Elverum fans alike. The music and lyrics intertwine in stunning thematic brilliance, the extensive repetition of the song’s few guitar chords and motifs reflecting one of Phil’s realizations upon his life – that “the things I survive return repeatedly and I find again that I am a newborn every time.”

Despite being, in Elverum’s own words, about “standing on the ground, looking around, basically,” “Microphones in 2020” is lyrically stunning and deeply relatable to the absolute core of everyone in love with music, and in love with the world, an album that’s truly all-encompassing, personal, and stunningly human.