Mount Eerie's 'No Flashlight' Recollected: A Flashback From the Foothills

By Philip Trapp | Mar 21, 2016 07:17 PM EDT
Phil Elverum of Mount Eerie (Photo : P.W. Elverum & Sun, Ltd.)

Once heralded as the lo-fi prodigy behind the Microphones, songwriter Phil Elverum abandoned that moniker mid-aughts to revamp as Mount Eerie. Arising out of the mountain mist, his first project from the precipice was a hushed hymnal of natural anthems.

Songster Elverum (originally Elvrum -- he'd added the extra "e" to his surname by this point) hails from the mountain town of Anacortes, Washington, a lush hamlet on Fidalgo Island, approximately 60 miles north of Seattle. This is important, as the setting's dense, overgrown features appear to deeply inform Elverum's compositional style and recording aesthetic.

Spending the late '90s and early 2000s releasing records as the Microphones, Elverum found underground fame and acclaim in 2001 with his fuzzy folk dossier, The Glow Pt. 2. Backed by venerable independent label K Records, the Microphones' third studio album skyrocketed Elverum's clandestine profile to unexpected indie infamy.

Though supporting the record with various international tours, Elverum seemingly wished to retreat from the spotlight and seek reinvention. At the outset of 2003, he turned over the Microphones' concluding studio effort, a cosmic concept album bearing the prescient title, Mount Eerie.

After a secluded winter in Norway and reading the entirety of Tolstoy's War and Peace, Elverum returned stateside. Reclaiming the previous album's title as the new name for the project (a.k.a. the ubiquitous peak of his hometown, Skagit County's Mount Erie), the musician began crafting songs that further identified him with his surroundings. As he told The Believer, the mountainous designation is in tribute to the monument of his deep-rooted environs:

"I called it 'Mount Eerie' to marry myself to this place because it is the center of my universe. I guess I had this idea that everyone must have some similar landmark that could be the center of their universe. Some places have a mountain that's always on the horizon. Maybe for some people it's a grain silo. Maybe a tree. Maybe a flat field. Maybe an apartment building. The iconic mascot of a place that is 'home.'"

Issued late summer 2005, No Flashlight (subtitled on original release as Songs of the Fulfilled Night) was the first Mount Eerie full-length on Phil's own boutique label, P.W. Elverum & Sun. The album's initial vinyl variant contained what its maker touted as "the world's largest record cover", a giant fold-out poster containing lyrics, drawings and photographs from the artist.

A deep rumination on the natural universe, and the mortality contained within, No Flashlight is perhaps Mount Eerie's most declarative statement. Opener "I Know No One" unflinchingly discloses the singer's awareness of his place within the musical world, with Elverum singing the first lines on the album:

"Knowing no one will understand these songs / I try to sing them clearer / Even though no one has ever asked / 'What does Mount Eerie mean?'"

An anatomical meditation, the album's remaining 14 tracks all hinge on Elverum's philosophical understanding of landscape, love and loss. The compositions continue the transcendent tunesmith's unique balance of stratified acoustic strumming atop quivering rhythms, led by the singer's weighty observations as a soft, straightforward coo. Occasional blasts of tape-deck distortion, or a cataclysmic brass section, serve to jolt the listener amongst the willfully lackadaisical production.

Never one to rest on his laurels, Elverum is amongst the great songwriters of our time in constantly reinterpreting his work as an endless oeuvre. No Flashlight, particularly, was remixed, repackaged and reissued by the artist just last year -- with the original vinyl release now out of print. In an interview with Tiny Mix Tapes, Elverum posited his perception of music as a ceaseless creation:

"I think music and art is fluid. It's more natural to let it take many forms than to stick to any one commodified album version or whatever. Songs are ideas that don't die once they're recorded. It's only modern popular music that doesn't work this way. All music in history is about constant reinterpretation and communication."

Elverum has since delivered a half-dozen albums as Mount Eerie, all elaborately and uniquely packaged, dispensed by way of his homegrown independent imprint. He has also released numerous art prints, photo books and other accoutrements, further cementing his role as one of the Pacific Northwest's most prolific artists.

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