By Jonah Krueger, Staff Writer
[P.W. Elverum & Sun, 2019]
Key tracks: “Belief”, “Love Without Possession”, “Belief Pt. 2”
Phil Elverum’s last two years have been, to put it mildly, very unique. With the release of a Vanity Fair feature, he transitioned from an indie-music veteran to a tabloid subheading. Overnight, he became “the guy from the magazines sold at the grocery store check-out line” rather than as the creative force behind projects like The Microphones and Mount Eerie. He was then thrust back into the entertainment news cycle when his highly reported “secret marriage” ended less than a year later.
Yet, behind the dramatic, sensational headlines is a human experience, one lived by someone who spends the majority of his time musing over these experiences and their meanings—or lack thereof. It is an experience lived by someone who has loved and lost more than most. Thus, Elverum has teamed up with Julie Doiron to share his latest expression of humanity with Lost Wisdom Pt. 2, a lovingly contemplative album released under the Mount Eerie moniker.
Now years separated from the devastation of losing his wife and the mourning process documented in A Crow Looked at Me and Now Only, Elverum has returned to a more metaphorical, poetic approach to songwriting. Where his past two efforts were straight forward, blunt portrayals of life after having an incredibly traumatic experience, Lost Wisdom Pt. 2 carefully employs imagery, symbolism and creative folk instrumentation to explore the most recent developments in his life.
Over 32 minutes, Elverum and Doiron envelop the listener in refreshingly nuanced themes of love: the crafting of it, the loss of it and the feelings after separation. The opener, “Belief” encompasses this arc as it follows the songwriter through the circumstances before, during and after the relationship. The track introduces water as a recurring symbol, embodying the feeling of total uncertainty. This uncertainty is overwhelming and endless, but it can seemingly be confronted by love and companionship.
The following songs paint Elverum in different settings as he grasps for wisdom and meaning in the wake of all that occurred. References to poetry and black metal are sandwiched in between vivid depictions of his mindset, and the interplay between the two singers creates a sense of subtle and beautiful chaos that comes as a result of lacking any concrete answers.
Falling in the middle of the tracklist, “Love Without Possession” is a compelling, profound piece of linear folk that explores Elverum’s understanding of love now that its target is gone. It plays with the other prominent recurring symbol, fire. Finding no use in wallowing in the absence of his lover, he describes his passion as an unattended bonfire, burning despite a lack of purpose.
The remainder of the album continues to strive for understanding in the sea of uncertainty. On “Real Lost Wisdom”, this takes the form of a call to action: “If any descendants ever somehow find any evidence of us on it I’ll inscribe: Love vehemently (like we did) without averting your eyes / For love it’s worth it / Look into the fire”. Alternatively, on “Widows” the lyrics feature the most personal anecdotes of the entire record, finding more specific questions to lob into the unanswering void.
The record closes with “Belief Pt. 2”, a song that affirms love over everything. The beautiful, slurred melodies present this very boldly: “I believed in love and I still do / I’m not going to seal up my heart”. The song, much like the album as a whole, strikes a balance that Elverum has been perfecting his whole career—that of the intensely personal and profoundly universal. Lost Wisdom Pt. 2, with its poetry, beautiful arrangements and compelling vocal performances, accomplishes this almost perfectly and proves to be one of Elverum’s best, most successful attempts at it yet.