It seems impossible to discuss Clear Moon, the latest release by Mount Eerie, without dragging out the fact the album was recorded within the formerly hallowed halls of an old, de-sanctified church named The Unknown. The laws of music writing demand details like this are reflected on, mulled over, teased apart, because it’s details like this that give us exactly what we want: a solid, factual foundation to continue building the lofty Mount Eerie mythos. Constructed out of plaintive vocals buttressed by expansive soundscapes and large sonorous drones, Clear Moon is a cathedral of an album where impressive feats of sonic architecture provide plenty of room for Elverum’s personal reflections.
The first of a planned pair of albums (its partner Ocean’s Roar is due out in September), Clear Moon actually feels like the natural extension of its predecessor, Wind’s Poem. Here the format of choice continues to be long, desolate tracks heavily informed by the brooding tone of black metal acts like Burzum and Xasthur. Though sonically, Clear Moon is more reserved. Howling guitar blasts have largely been replaced with ominous rumbling and isolated feedback squalls—only twice are we treated to the crushing riffage found on previous offering like “Wind’s Dark Poem.” What hasn’t been tempered is the scope of the band’s ambition. On the opener “Through the Trees Pt. 2” Elverum lays out his intentions over gently strummed acoustic guitar, somberly singing “I go on describing this place/And the way it feels to live and die.”
In less adept hands the attempt could easily come of as ponderous and pretentious. However, Elverum has enough songwriting skill—and artistic clout—to make his handling of Big Ideas engaging and affecting. This is mostly accomplished by having the entire album work as a deeply introspective meditation on living in the tiny town of Anacortes, Washington. Every airy musing Elverum tosses out on the nature of existence is tethered to Earth with evocative details that bring you close to his personal experience. Elverum’s lyrics can assert that “raw impermanence echos in the sky” and make it seem as immediate as the feeling of standing in an a parking lot or walking through a store after work—and that’s in just one five-minute song. To couch it in grad-school speak, the approach perfectly marries the metaphysical with the phenomenological. What’s being discussed here is what it means to exist at all.
At various points throughout the album’s runtime the production really shines, or more accurately, doesn’t shine. A geologic rumble underpins many of the tracks, providing a powerful counterpoint to Elverum’s boyish voice and the celestial pitches of his female guest vocalists. At other points, guitar lines come through with such clarity that on good speakers you can discern expressive variations in texture and tone—this trick is especially noticeable on the simmering Earth-esque “The Place I Live.” Additionally, the percussion is especially spot-on, ringing through alternatively soft and subtle and as large and imposing as thunder—but what do you expect from a band that was so enamored with its percussion that it released an album culled of everything except its drum tracks?
As the album is played out by its final instrumental it feels complete. Whoever made the call to put out two separate offerings instead of a double album made a good call: there is enough packed into this 40 minutes that doubling its length could have been daunting for the listener. Thankfully, we have a full three months to digest Clear Moon before Ocean’s Roar comes washing onto our shores.