Critical Voices: Mount Eerie, Song Islands Volume 2

October 14, 2010

Song Islands Volume 2 is like an ice cream cone completely covered in ketchup: there’s something of value in there somewhere, but you’re so afraid to take that first bite that you’ll never find out exactly what that is.

Mount Eerie frontman Phil Elverum tries to represent a wide variety of styles with his compilation album, Song Islands Volume 2. Jazz, punk, folk, and many other styles all make surprising appearances on the monstrous 31-track album. Sadly, pairing tracks like the smooth jazz- and blues-inspired “Mystery Language” with tracks like “Instrumental”—which is the aural equivalent of getting a vasectomy via roto-tool—destroys any sense of cohesion. Elverum has some serious talent as a guitarist, which shows at the end of “Where’s My Tarp” and throughout “Mystery Language,” so it’s majorly disappointing that he uses his talents so sparingly.

The compilation is not a total waste. Some of Elverum’s experimentation works.  “In the Rain” is musically disappointing, but its lyrics, which evoke the widely-regarded agrarian man-of-letters Wendell Berry, are not. The proscriptive tone of the album is particularly noticeable in “Get off the Internet” and “Don’t Smoke.” On “Cooking,” a song about a greedy and self-entitled generation, Mount Eerie promotes their press release’s claim that it will include “raw poems barely accompanied on acoustic guitar.” But the same song makes me think that Elverum might feel more at home at a slam poetry session than in the recording studio.

Song Islands Volume 2
makes some strong cultural critiques and wins points for attempting to convey its themes in an eclectic manner, but it often feels like the music is getting in the way of the lyrics. This it the chief failing of the album—art needs an appropriate medium to be effective. This is why da Vinci painted the Mona Lisa on a canvas and not on a piece of tree bark. Without a proper vehicle, something inspiring and amazing can become, well, something like Song Islands Volume 2.

Voice’s Choices: “Mystery Language,” “Where’s My Tarp”

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