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Album Review

The Glow Pt. 2 Review

November 12, 2019

The Glow Pt. 2 by The Microphones, a project fronted by singer/songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and producer, Phil Elverum, is an album that has always followed me around. As someone who absolutely adores Neutral Milk Hotel’s In The Aeroplane Over the Sea and has since high school, I frequently saw people draw comparisons between the two. About a year or two ago I listened to the record for the first time and while it had moments I really enjoyed, I was kind of turned off by the messy nature of the album. I thought there were too many songs that felt incomplete, and I thought the mixing was kind of weird as the vocals are often lost in the noise of the record. Ultimately, I kind of blew it off as overrated. However, little by little I found the record drawing me back in. I’d go back to a song or two and slowly explore more and more of the record, finding myself lost in its world. After about a year or so of listening, the record finally hit me, and I’ve recognized it for the masterpiece it is. A messy, cluttered, unorthodox, emotionally overwhelming masterpiece, but a masterpiece nonetheless.

Right from the beginning The Glow Pt. 2 gives you a good idea about what you’re going to be hearing, in perhaps its most “put together” three songs. The bittersweet rhythmic folk song “I Want Wind To Blow” is beautiful and moving but near the end of the track gets distorted with noise until it all culminates with the beginning of the song “The Glow, Pt. 2” which is heavy and incredibly emotionally overpowering. Phil’s vocals cut like a knife here, as the organ chords, acoustic guitars, distorted electric guitars just build the emotions until they can’t get any more piercing. “I could not get through September without a battle…” Phil sings, and suddenly the listener is right there with him, looking death right in its face. “The Moon” is the only song on the project that sounds anything like a Neutral Milk Hotel song, but only in the choice of instrumentation as the song feels like a confessional folk rock song, but this confession is cloudy as the vocals are mixed so low in the mix that it’s being overwhelmed by the sound of organs, horns, guitars, and drums. This was one of the things that originally irked me about this album. I felt like the lyrics were a very important part of the project but they always seemed washed out by the volume of the music. Over time though, this has become something I love about the project. The quiet mixing of the vocals just adds to the cold lonely feeling of the album. It perfectly reflects that feeling of hurting but knowing that nobody can hear you.

After this point, this album wanders a bit off. There are lots of short little emotional folk songs like “Headless Horseman”, and “My Roots are Strong and Deep”, as well as some instrumental tracks and even some dark ambient music. This part of the record is what I would describe as messy, but I think that’s part of the beauty of it. It just captures that cold lonely mood so perfectly, even though on first listen it may not be incredibly captivating. Things start to get emotionally overwhelming again as the record gets to “The Gleam, Pt. 2”, and “Map” which just hook the listener with emotion, and are compositionally rich but noisy. Then on “You’ll Be in the Air” the emotion continues to build as Phil’s singing gets messy and almost whiney but pouring over with emotion. It’s like the sound of a dog whimpering in pain, it hurts to hear but it’s just so convincing, intimate and human.

The record wraps up with a three-song run beginning with “I Felt Your Shape” which is actually quite a lovely folk song, it’s pretty straightforward and is one of my favorite moments on the record. It’s intimate, beautiful and melancholic. This would be a pretty good moment to end the album, but Phil isn’t going out without a fight as the track that follows is “Samurai Sword” which is the heaviest most pummeling and sonically overwhelming moment on the record. It’s a flat out noise rock song, the folk elements are entirely missing here, and it’s all topped off with Phil’s incredibly quiet whimpering vocals, mixed so quietly they’re almost indiscernible. The record ends with “My Warm Blood” which after the overwhelming heaviness of the previous track feels like a mere whimper. There’s a little instrumental section to give the record one last push and final verse from Phil over some acoustic guitars, it’s the final breath before the release of death: “Oh, I'm alone, except for the sound of insects flying / Around they know my red blood is warm still”. And then finally, the listener is left with nothing but pulsating silence. It’s over.

Overall, The Glow Pt. 2 isn’t just an album, it’s an emotional experience. It can be a hard one to get through, but isn’t life the same way? And much like life, with patience and understanding, it becomes incredibly emotionally rewarding and fulfilling. It definitely isn’t an album for everyone, it requires some patience, but it is just too ambitious to be overlooked. It blends psychedelic folk, noise rock, lo-fi home recording, and ambient music in a way no other record can. Ultimately through all of this diversity in sound, great writing, and phenomenal atmosphere it becomes even stronger than the sum of its parts. I love it, and over about a year of me listening to it, I’m happy to call it one of my favorite records.

Grade: A+

Written by: Micah GonzalezPhoto courtesy of the album's Bandcamp page

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