Black Wooden EP
Armed with his guitar, ghostly murmur and about five chords, Phil Elverum has endured as one of indie’s most time-honored and influential figures. He may have peaked back in 2001, when his parameter-smashing The Glow Pt. 2 showed us how to make folk music in a post-Aeroplane world, but he’s never taken a victory lap, instead continuing his pyretic productivity well into the 2000s with his occasionally-brilliant Mount Eerie project. His latest release- an EP, Black Wooden, departs from the noise-damaged disposition of his previous LP, Wind’s Poem, for a much more natural, Microphones-era ambient folk tone – managing to be simultaneously comfortingly warm, and unsettlingly cadaverous.
Save for the electric-tinged title track and an astoundingly boring instrumental, Black Wooden is primarily composed of sparse, barely two-minute guitar ‘n’ croon folk songs. Intrinsically beat-less, they stagger along with sporadically plucked guitar strings and Elverum’s trademarked hallucinogenic libretto. “There’s another world inside this one / But you don’t have to go there / I have actually seen it / The bottomless pit opens when you yawn.” Despite their hypnologic nature, the lyrics read like something you’d talk about around a campfire; maybe the campfire is surrounded by werewolves, but nobody’s freaking out too much.
These recordings apparently spawned from a borrowed guitar and the cracks between a nationwide tour, which might explain the relative lack of experimentation, but even all by himself, Elverum still manages to sound utterly freewheeling. People simply don’t make music like him. I once read his music described as “forged from dirt and carved from stone, craggy and elemental and earthy.” Black Wooden is exactly that, excavated from the dirty corners of the world, an arid basement, a creaky farm or a haunted mansion.
Elverum has a way of pushing background ambiance to the center of his music; you can practically hear the spooky evergreen forest on the centerpiece “Appetite.” He’s at his best when keeping it simple, and when the songs do drift into hollow wankery, (“Marriage,”) he’s quick to refocus on the coniferous textures that make the music worth listening to in the first place.
Black Wooden isn’t the best work Elverum has done; in fact, it’s not even in his top five. Instead, it certainly feels like an interim record not necessarily meant for the public consideration; think of it as a few select cuts meant to fill the gap between full-lengths. But it’s altogether solid and as far as darkly ambient, psych-colored folk music goes, you could do a hell of a lot worse.