Earlier this year, Mount Eerie’s Phil Elverum, writer of the B-side “Get Off the Internet,” committed a genuinely ironic act: He started a Twitter account. Elverum’s tweets are purposefully flavorless, a critique on tweets themselves, but they’re a public sign—perhaps the first of his career—that his experience isn’t limited to mountain vistas and deep stares into the cosmos. His masterful evocations of nature—and conversely, his music’s apparent indifference toward connecting with the world beyond his sensory and existential purview—have been the throughline of his work going back to 2001’s critically beloved The Glow, Pt. 2 and beyond. That hasn’t changed with Clear Moon, a vivid, powerful record driven by droning synthesizers and guitars repurposed as textural rush. But other feelings are beginning to gleam through.
Elverum’s melodies here come as soliloquies untethered from pop structure, though many of the individual songs are stunning: the guitar whirlwind of “The Place Lives,” the hail-spattering “House Shape,” and the oddly Kid A-esque “Lone Bell” offer welcome rhythmic intensity along with their ambient sweep. “Over Dark Water” turns to abrasive guitar feedback and Elverum’s much-used ghostly group vocals; the title track offers the momentary giggle of a vocoder effect between molasses-stirred cymbals. Three interstitial, instrumental tracks, “(Something),” “(Something)” and “(Synthesizer),” offer a break in the action, if not distinctiveness.
But the bleaker moments plod onward needlessly, especially given the self-awareness shown in the opening “Through the Trees Pt. 2”: “It’s hard to describe without seeming absurd,” he admits. It’s a revealing moment of human frustration, but rather than embrace this tension over the rest of the album, he retreats to the safety of element imagery. The result is an album that’s meaningful without feeling personal. Clear Moon is a thunderous effort, but it’s hard to ignore the other Phil Elverum hiding behind the clouds, composing his next tweet.