Albums for the Apocalypse #3: Mount Eerie’s ‘Dawn’

March 22, 2020 | By

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It’s certain that at this point of areas around the world legally mandating stay-at-home orders, that people are starting to feel a bit lonely being unable to go out. Surely we can venture to grocery stores and get the essentials, but socializing isn’t the easiest to do in a long line of mask-bearing lunatics willing to abandon morality for the last roll of toilet paper. Isolation of this nature is a new and scary thing to most people; but there are some who are well versed in the practice.

Take singer/songwriter Phil Elverum for example, who sequestered himself for the winter of 2002-3 in a cabin located in a remote region of Norway. He spent this seclusion keeping a journal of his day-to-day thoughts and activities alongside which he wrote a series of acoustic songs that would later be recorded and make up his third studio album under the “Mount Eerie” name. Both the album and hardcover novel of his winter journal were released concurrently in 2008 under the name ‘Dawn’.

The winter journal, although a great read and sufficient guide to times of isolation, is unfortunately very rare; going for easily over a hundred dollars if you can manage to find it. It does come printed in its entirety on a single album insert poster inside the vinyl packaging of Dawn, though it is a true pain in the ass to read. On the other hand, the studio album is much easier to locate in Mount Eerie’s discography on most streaming services.

Dawn is a very minimal record compared to much of Elverum’s back-catalog of lo-fi indie rock that often capitalizes on noisy, cacophonous production. By comparison, Dawn is lighter on the ears and infinitely more direct; featuring the personnel of Elverum alone, who provides his boyish voice and layered acoustic guitar.

I’ve seen a few critics pick apart the surface-level sonic simplicity of the record, claiming the music to be desolate and dry. A close listen of the album will easily dispel these criticisms, as the minimalist nature of Elverum’s acoustic acrobatics show that he is more than capable of making each song sound uniquely evocative, despite only utilizing a sparse toolkit of musical elements across the entire record.

Minimalism is a theme that is applied to the instrumentation, as well as to the lyrical content of the record. Not to say that the songs are written in a negligible manner, but they instead appear to be unfiltered and often more diatribal than melodic. The few tunes that come off somewhat as balladry are actually compositions Elverum lifted or built upon from his and others’ previous work. Examples of this can be found in songs like ‘Moon Sequel’ and ‘With My Hands Out’, the latter of which I personally prefer to the original.

Autobiographical lyricism and the primary use of linear song structures could classify Dawn as an anti-folk record, for it is unashamedly a creation of his own about himself; rather than an exercise in vague expressionism that is expected in most folk music. The experience of listening to this record could be likened to that of inviting Elverum into your own home and letting him tell you his story.

Some may say it’s needlessly indulgent, though I would argue that it does one good to abandon internal struggles and listen to another person vent about theirs for a little while.

-DJ Straight Edge


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Category: Reviews