Review by Heather Phares
A title like Wind's Poem suggests fleeting delicacy, but there's far more to these songs than that. If this double-album sprawl really was a poem, it would be more epic than haiku, combining Phil Elverum's musings on erosion and mortality with sounds that touch on ambient black metal, field recordings, and David Lynch soundtracks. Elverum has been fascinated with these motifs for some time — "I Want Wind to Blow" and "You'll Be in the Air" are two of the finest songs on the Microphones' The Glow, Pt. 2, Mount Eerie was a meditation on death and spirituality, and Black Wooden Ceiling Opening documented his first flirtations with metal — but Wind's Poem is still some of the most impressive music Elverum has recorded under any of his aliases. The album captures the, well, eerie sounds of wind powering through the air like an emotion, spanning wistful breezes and raging three-day blows. The opening track, "Wind's Dark Poem," is definitely the latter, rushing at listeners with gale-force distortion far bigger and heavier than anything on previous Elverum albums. The tornado whipping around him feels more akin to Jesu, Sunn 0))), or even ambient noise artists like Xela, yet it's just as beautiful in its own intense way as his gentler songs are. It's an extreme way to begin Wind's Poem, especially because Mount Eerie's two prior albums, Lost Wisdom and Dawn, were almost painfully quiet. Not all of Wind's Poem is this furious, although many of its noisiest tracks are among its highlights. "The Hidden Stone" actually uses its sound and fury as a buffer, making it just as intimate as any of Elverum's whispery tracks; likewise, "Lost Wisdom, Pt. 2"'s hypnotic drones pull listeners into the eye of the song's storm. He balances these outbursts with moments that are equally gentle, most strikingly on "Through the Trees," an 11-minute outsider's lullaby so slow it would be maddening if its warmth and subtle textural shifts weren't so hypnotic. Elverum's production touches complete the unique atmosphere, ranging from the finely chopped cymbals that top "Summons"' guitar rumble to the layered depth that adds to "My Heart Is Not at Peace"'s funereal desolation. Wind's Poem's second half boasts some of its most exciting experiments. Aided by No Kids' Nick Krgovich, Elverum dives deeper into unusual pop than he has in some time, particularly on "Between Two Mysteries," which recasts the minor-key whoosh of "Laura Palmer's Theme" from Angelo Badalamenti's Twin Peaks soundtrack as the backdrop to gamelan-tinged percussion and sprightly guitars, and "Ancient Questions," the sparkling keyboards and guitars of which are like the clouds parting compared to some of the more blustery moments here. Wind's Poem strikes a balance between accessibility and ambition that offers something for every kind of Elverum fan, but never sacrifices its purpose in the process.
At this point, some 13 years after those first Microphones cassettes and eight years since the watershed The Glow, Pt. 2, we tend to know what to expect from Phil Elverum. The production will be cavernous and downright primordial, the instruments resounding as though carved from bone and strung with wool. Natural and elemental imagery will abound. And, of course, we'll be treated to Elverum's unmistakable, unsophisticated, ever wonder-struck mumble. Yet Elverum has a way of playing with those expectations. And, more to the point, knowing what to expect can make us underestimate, which can in turn lead to surprise. If last year's Lost Wisdom outing with Julie Doiron and Fred Squire served to remind us that, stripped of all the scuzz and sonic bramble, Elverum is a damn good songwriter, then Wind's Poem now reminds us that with all his characteristic production dressings in place-- surprise!-- Phil can still be a force of nature.
Poem has been touted as Elverum's "black metal" album, and Phil has made no secret of his relatively newfound affinity for Xasthur and other lynchpins of the unholy genre. Yet apart from opener "Wind's Dark Poem", a slice of bona fide hellfire, any outside influence here feels wholly absorbed into the fabric of what is every bit a Mount Eerie concoction. Even "Wind's Dark Poem" retains the singer's characteristic vocal delivery and cadence, and other loud ones-- "The Hidden Stone", "The Mouth of Sky"-- smack as much of the chunky, bowel-rattling heavy riffage of The Glow, Pt. 2's "I Want to Be Cold" and "Samurai Sword" as anything else. All of which makes Elverum less chameleon and more collector of sounds, assimilating them as he sees fit to suit his grand artistic vision. A vision, as he also told us, that's been there all along: "I think I've always been drawn to things that sounded massive, or at least created this feeling of an immense vibe."
And massive and immerse are certainly two ways to describe Wind's Poem-- though they hardly tell the whole story. To better do so we might divide the 12 tracks that comprise the record into two rough camps: the loud and thoroughly rattled, noted above, and the renewed and becalmed, chief among them "Summons", "Ancient Questions", and the epic lullaby "Through the Trees", which effectively swallows whole any hell raised by "Wind's Dark Poem". The story, then, emerges from the way these songs alternatingly devour or are born from the smoldering ashes of one another, clear skies giving way to ferocious muddle, which in turn begets light and insight anew. The lyrics, appropriately, deal in fundamental dualities. "My Heart Is Not at Peace" and "Summons" each posit wind as both "destroyer" and "revealer," "Ancient Questions" pits doubt against a sense of purpose, and closer "Stone's Ode" is divided into two distinct movements, one assured and awash in the clarity of day, one less so and detailing the onset (literal and metaphorical, one assumes) of night.
What makes Wind's Poem among the most compelling and fully realized Mount Eerie releases to date is the record's ability to satisfy several types of listeners on several contextual levels. The iTunes shuffle junky, for starters, can excerpt almost any selection here and find something to marvel at on its own terms. The Elverum obsessive will waste no time seeking god in the details, the recurring musical and thematic touches, and the intertextual puzzle created across the artist's catalog. Even considering the most basic mechanics of the album format, Poem gets it right: a rock solid opener that draws the listener right in, an effective closer that recapitulates lyrical and musical motifs from across the record, fine pacing, well-balanced dynamics, and the overall sense that one has completed a journey and emerged in a slightly different metaphysical place by the end of those 55 minutes. But then, too, there are the 11-and-a-half-minute second track, the pure pulsating noise cut, and other outliers, as if to remind us that despite any concessions made to the listener-- and Phil has moved well beyond the often formless experiments of the early Microphones releases-- this is still by no means a record to be digested lightly. And thank goodness for that.
— Matthew Solarski, August 14, 2009