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"Pre-Human Ideas"

Mount Eerie – Pre-Human Ideas
13 November 2013, 11:30 Written by Adam Nelson

Pre-Human Ideas is a selection of Mount Eerie songs, largely from last year’s pair of albums Clear Moon/Ocean Roar, with auto-tune applied to their vocal tracks. It sounds, essentially, exactly like what that implies. Re-working old songs is nothing new to Elverum, who has long had a habit of playing around with his catalogue – a quick count shows three studio versions of “Wooly Mammoth’s Mighty Absence” in my iTunes library, for instance – but generally these have felt like little more than playing around. Pre-Human Ideas has the sense of being more fully-fledged adaptations and re-interpretations, which bring new and distinct meanings to the old material.

In my review of the recent re-issues of The Microphones’ discography, I noted that Phil Elverum has, of late, moved away from his primary theme (himself, and his fear and wonder at his own physical form), and broadened the discussion to his immediate surroundings, to “describing this place”. Another, more subtly developed theme was described early into Clear Moon by the lyric “I know there’s no other world/ mountains and websites”, which seemed to be Elverum’s way of asking: where exactly do my “immediate surroundings” lie in world where instant communication with someone halfway around the world is more quickly accessible than the mountains on the horizon?

Elverum’s increased use of synthesised and computer-generated sounds on last year’s records acted as a safe way of experimenting with his ideas about (dis)connection and technological advancement without interfering with his own voice, the most obviously human element of his work. Even in a world of websites, there was a distinctly human presence, narrating “the feeling from inside an island body”, who made relatable the disorienting sketches of unfamiliarity and alienation.

There is a somewhat disconcerting beauty to some of Pre-Human Ideas’ songs. The re-working of “I Say ‘No’”, taken from 2008’s entirely acoustic album Dawn, offers a particularly poignant take on the original, introducing a second vocal line commentating on, embellishing, the old lyrics. The original version ended with the words: “There’s a ringing in my ears that’s faint and high/ and when I listen close to it, it says…”, at which point it promptly ending, leaving the voice of the ringing unspoken. Pre-Human Ideas’ equivalent of that loaded silence is to bombard you with 30 seconds of bass-heavy drone that sounds like it was cut from Monoliths and Dimensions.

Quite what purpose this review serves is probably debatable. Elverum fans are already likely to harbour some interest in hearing Pre-Human Ideas – he tends to inspire a certain level of cultish devotion – while non fans would be well advised to avoid this as a point of first contact with his work. It is always a disappointing year that passes with out new Mount Eerie material, but as a fresh perspective on familiar songs, a chance for Elverum to experiment with newer sounds, and a development on a recurrent theme, Pre-Human Ideas is a tidy enough teaser for what might be to come.

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