I wanted to hold off listening to Phil Elverum’s new album as Mount Eerie, released as his second collaboration with Julie Doiron. The track names alone made it clear that these were new songs — songs I’d heard performed live earlier this summer.
That performance had been so raw and so special, to hear the songs in a somewhat transitory form — undoubtedly different to what they would eventually become on a presently unannounced new album called Pink Light, listed tentatively on Elverum’s website — felt wrong somehow.
Nevertheless, it is hard to resist another collaboration with Doiron. Their first album together, Lost Wisdom, felt like a really big deal. Preceding the release of Dawn, a collection of solo-sung songs written by Elverum on his Scandinavian mountain retreat, the collaboration felt like an exercise in building these solitary songs outwards, beyond themselves, introducing another voice and allowing the songs to grow alongside it.
That album’s cover — a large folder poster — was the centrepiece of my university dorm room in the late 2000s and early 2010s. Like No Flashlight before it, it was an album you could live in. It’s oversized record cover emphasised that fact, perhaps inadvertently.
Now, the sensation has been inverted. These songs are striking in documenting Elverum’s self-described fall back into banality following the death of his wife. They are of another world. Whereas his previous two albums documented a tragically small world opened outwards, here it feels like we are bearing witness to some sort of retreat; some sort of return to a previous way of living — an impossible exercise, perhaps, and one to be undertaken with great care. It somehow feels even more intrusive than his initial collection of “death songs”. With Doiron’s voice appearing alongside Elverum’s again, it is hard even for the listener to adjust back to a time before — a time before Elverum’s unprecedented sonic isolation.
But Doiron doesn’t crowd these songs. She appears as a friend, taking them somewhere new, even prior to their release in their final form. This is not an extension but a transition and a strange one to bear witness to. But that lingering phrase — pink light — echoes not only to a beyond but a lost continuum.
On their first album together, Lost Wisdom, they would sing on the track “Grave Robbers”:
And our ghosts stay forever confined
In wherever we haunt
And hopelessly want to
But can not get away
And our bones do blow away
In pink light
Prior even to this, on Mount Eerie Pts. 6 & 7 — a 12″ included with a book of Elverum’s photographs — one of my most prized possessions — he sings:
In and out of the fog, I forget what I know through rock revolves
And there’s my sight
The sun sets in the south, where it rose
The song dissolves, bones blow in the pink light
Mount Erie revealed in the breaking the clouds
And then gone again
Earlier still, on the Microphones’ song “You’ll Be In The Air”, he sings:
You’d feel the hot blowing rock-filled winds
And the clouds of ash would fill your skies
And you’d smoothly glide
over the cold river basin where we spend the night
And again your gaping gap is pink in foggy light.
This pink light has followed Elverum for some time. Perhaps for all time. It was present even through his grief for his wife, which he sings about on the song “Ravens“, having glanced “up at the half moon pink chill refinery cloud light”. At that time, and previously also ,he bathed in it alone and then with singers and then with Doiron and then with his wife and then with his daughter. And then again alone. And now again together.
These transitory songs are a humbling document of a strangely circular process and one which seems endlessly healing. I look forward to hearing them in their next form — forms that will no doubt be inspired by these ones.