The buzz on Phil Elverum's band Mount Eerie's latest album, much like the advance buzz on Sonic Youth's last album, is that it is black metal. Evidently black metal is all the rage with musicians from Williamsburg to Seattle, desperate for music that strays from the tired Pet Sounds retreads and 80s electro-punk that indie bands have been grinding into the ground for the last few years. Or maybe they just want to get into music that most people won't like. Either way, it's irrelevant, because Wind's Poem is about as black metal as Sonic Youth's The Eternal, which is to say not much at all. Sure, it starts off with a bang of hammering drums and grinding guitars, but that soon fades into lush waves of sound and subdued singing that is more My Bloody Valentine than Emperor.
In fact, at times it is a lot like My Bloody Valentine. Like Loveless, Wind's Poem combines walls of sound made up of multi-layered tracks to create a wash of noise. The album forgoes song structure for texture. The vocals are all buried underneath the music, putting the emphasis on the way the words are sung rather than the lyrics themselves. Songs amble along slowly and deliberately, forcing and rewarding repeated listening.
Those expecting the same hushed folk as 2008s Mount Wisdom are in for a shock. Imagine if, during those sessions, Phil Elverum's long-haired, head-banging buddies had shown up with their double-drum kit and amps cranked to eleven to jam. The result is similar to Mogwai's Come On Die Young, which likewise used the instrumentation of heavy metal and punk to make a delicate, intricate songs. This is contrasted with introspective bedroom folk in the vein of Bon Iver and Gravenhurst. The tension between these two styles isn't always resolved: "The Hidden Stoves" buries whispered vocals under loud guitars and crashing cymbals, and the result sounds like Justin Vernon backed by a stoner metal band, interesting but not entirely successful.
That's the one glaring problem with the album: the louder moments tend to spoil the mood set by the quieter, more delicate moments. "Summons" starts off with a whisper only to have the drums and guitars come crashing in at the halfway point. It's exhilarating, but it's also jarring, and it further diminishes where, how, and by whom the album can be listened to. The metal parts will be too heavy for the majority of folk fans, and the folk elements are too mellow and wimpy for the metal contingent. The majority of the album is subdued and muted, so you can't put it on when you are getting ready to go out, but if you put it on during the quieter moments of your day, the noisier moments will rock you out of your reverie. In experimenting with two disparate forms of music, Elverum discovered what most would hypothesize going in: they don't mix very well.
Thankfully, the louder moments are more an aberration than a trend. There are only a handful of songs that truly bring the noise, so you can easily skip them if you aren't in the mood for loud. Those willing to put up with or ignore the metal influence will be rewarded with songs like the subtly beautiful eleven-minute "Through the Trees." It brings to mind the wind rustling through the trees on a lazy Sunday, before it ends on an ominous note with echoing feedback. There is a haunted, melancholy feel to the entire disc, and it presents the listener with a genuine challenge. This isn't easily digestible, quickly disposable musical junk food. It is the musical equivalent of a Godard film, equal parts fascinating and inscrutable.
In an age where the album is threatening to become irrelevant and most of us are listening to music in ADD-sized chunks through tiny, tinny ear bud headphones, Elverum has made a dark, ruminative album that demands attention, patience, and good speakers. It's useless to have this on shuffle, and it doesn't go well with your commute; the intricacies and nuances are too easily drowned out by traffic. Don't bother downloading it; you need the booklet that comes with the CD and double album. Like the element that inspired the album, Wind's Poem can be both soothing and disconcerting, switching from a soft breeze on a hot summer's day to a category 5 hurricane threatening to take the roof off of your house.