P.W. Elverum and Sun
Sep 27, 2012 Web Exclusive
Ocean Roar is the second in a two-part release from Phil Elverum this year, the companion to Clear Moon. As the titles imply, that installment was a bit more delicate. It offered a cozy warmth around the hearth, away from the northwesterly natural onslaught Elverum always paints so perfectly. But there were glimpses, cold winds blowing open the door-something burrowed beneath, waiting to explode.
Ocean Roar, then, crashes right through the damned windows, its bombastic opener "Pale Lights" adrift in droning claustrophobia, all cathedral drums and buzzing guitars. This companion piece immediately twists its partner's components into something much more menacing.
"Waves" is so perfectly literal-churning drums providing the undertow beneath giant crests of guitar. Elverum, as always, becomes just another facet of his fabled landscape, but is given a kind of superhuman reach this time by his church-turned-studio in Anacortes, those waves of drums crashing off the walls like their cold-water counterparts.
"Engel Der Luft" follows with more of the same, all pulsating midrange. That documented black metal influence in Elverum's hands become something different-he makes it interesting again, infusing it with so much atmosphere and personality that it's no longer some hackneyed, cartoonish formal exercise but a simple part of his vocabulary.
A later instrumental grabs from the same stuff, with a more plodding, tribal backbone. More than most artists, Elverum's deft at grabbing these disparate elements and stamping them with his own sensibility. His appeal always lies in that restrained tension, those dynamic shifts, and-on this pair of albums more than ever-that worship of the Pacific Northwest, poetic stand-in for all things life, giveth-ing and taking away. It burrows in and grows roots in Elverum's mess of guitars, unpredictable multitracked drums, and plaintive, sorrowful voice.
And it's not all heavy bombast. The title track, for example, floats along lightly on stereo ride cymbals, Mr. Elverum, accompanied by multiple female vocals, musing on his "mind wandering again" before being joined by a sample of happy children and clapping. That uncharacteristic nostalgia is later (characteristically) sonically twisted on "Ancient Times," leaving childhood behind in a mess of feedback.
On "I Walked Home Beholding," Elverum narrates a walk home from his studio on a cold night after a storm: "The whole town had been abandoned except for me." And maybe that verb-narrates-is the best way to describe Elverum's bent these days. From unforgiving seas to rain-drenched walks through the evergreens, he ropes you right into a very particular, personal experience. Close your eyes and you might see your breath.
Author rating: 7.5/10
Average reader rating: 9/10