Do you know that part in nearly every male-centric movie-romance in which the protagonist seems to have lost something (someone) of importance without which they spiral into a depression? About six months ago, I found myself inhabiting a plot-point of this exact nature; in the movies, it is generally resolved either when the ‘hero’ gains back what he has lost or he realizes that what he had was not what it seemed and he finds someone different (and better) with which to occupy his time. The space between these two points, however, is a dreadful limbo in which times seem to be at their darkest. It is not difficult to feel that you have become a pariah, unable to properly relate to the normal goings-on of the world around you.
According to legend (and song), when Phil Elverum found himself in this place, he spent a long winter in a log cabin in Norway in an effort to distance himself from the social interactions demanded by human society. While in the cabin, he wrote a series of songs which became the album Dawn of Mount Eerie. The songs on Dawn directly address the pain, regret, anger and loneliness you would expect. The second LP Phil wrote (but the first he released) under the name Mount Eerie, No Flashlight, has a completely different aura surrounding it than that of its emotional predecessor. During this sometimes difficult period in my life, I often find myself turning to No Flashlight for guidance.
I am a collector of Mount Eerie releases. I own multiple versions of much of the P.W. Elverum and Sun catalog across various formats. While many people prefer the earlier releases attributed to ‘the microphones’, I have always felt an affinity with the ‘Mount Eerie’ project. From the beginning, No Flashlight has been my favorite release.
As a physical document, it is hard to match. It has what may very well be the largest record cover in the history of the world (approx 5ft x 3.5ft). When it is completely unfolded, it details every song on the album with lyrics, explanations and/or pieces of poetry or literature which inspired the song. It is with this point that every review of No Flashlight begins to describe the way In which Phil almost demands to be studied and understood. The fact that the album can be studied is directly indicative of its substance.
Phil assumes the role of the next great American transcendentalist. He describes the need to commune with the world around us and find a way to resolve the constraints of the material world with the veracity of the natural. This point is most hammered home through a series of short vignette-like songs entitled (2 lakes), (2 mountains) and (2 moons). Each song describes the struggle of seeing “the world within the world”:
There are 2 moons.
The one that everyone knows
is a reflection in a bucket wearing clothes
we see reflections
The second moon is actually the moon.
Each of these short songs shares a similar lyrical structure and repeats musical phrasings. This is a common exercise throughout the work of Mount Eerie and sometimes it can make it difficult to spot the wealth of sounds and styles covered on the recordings. No Flashlight, is marked by its meticulously arranged percussion which institutes the use of many hand-held instruments to create an earthy and gently primal atmosphere. In addition to this the songs can include anything from quiet acoustic guitars to distorted electric guitars, on through piano and even some horns.
There is an appealing romance to the world-view presented by No Flashlight. Throughout my life, I have gravitated towards the writings of Emerson and Phil’s words mine a similar philosophy. On the record, he seems completely at peace with the world around him and I must wonder how so much has changed in only two years since the recording of Dawn; what was Phil able to discover to move past his period of limbo?
As I work to meet new people and keep an even disposition, it is easy to get caught up in what Phil describes as “the romance”. I realize that I may see the world only the way it is shown to me and by looking at it differently, without a flashlight, I may find another world within. No one can teach me how to do this, it has to happen to me when it is time.
I can only love those dark hills
because I live in the day.
I can only see the mountain
because I live in town.
I only (claim to) love night
because I have only smelled it.
Actually living in the night means not talking about it.
I can only say “no flashlight”
because once I accidentally forgot it.
Actually living in the night means actually walking
in the dark, means
to find caves in song.