Posted on February 13th, 2015 (4:00 pm) by Heather Milkiewicz

Sauna encapsulates the essence of a long winter hibernation, exploring the depths of melancholy through its thoughtful and mystical curation. Once again, mastermind Phil Elverum treats us to a labor of his love for musical intention and experimentation.

Mount Eerie’s Phil Elverum has been at his trade for almost 20 years now, both as Mount Eerie and as The Microphones. While the music has always emoted a somewhat reflective sadness or longing, his music has expanded and evolved from bare bones electronic and experimental, to increasingly more polished. What once sounded like lo-fi basement recordings, has now evolved into clearly studio produced tracks, veering more and more into a dense, more complex, and at times dream-like electronic music. In a 2014 interview regarding the album, Elverum summarizes the gist of the album, admitting that “the songs are pretty long and complicated...the songs are denser and more hi-fi, almost."

The 10 minute long title track, “Sauna,” appropriately sets the tone for the feel of the album with percussive elements and heavy, ominous sounding synthesizer overtones eventually leading up to Elverum’s quiet and intermittent vocals. It envelopes the listener in the midst of something larger than the song, larger than Elverum, and even ourselves, with lyrics to further articulate that ideology. Elverum proposes, “I don’t think the world still exists, only this room and the snow…” In comparison, “Turmoil” is a slightly lighter track in nature, both in lyrical content and instrumentation. It is not dense in electronic sound, with the guitar creating a still melancholy, but more upbeat sound. “Dragon” takes on a more bare bones feel, both vocally and in terms of arrangement, with only sparse piano chords and an electronic undertone that waxes and wanes throughout the song in the character of a wind storm. The female vocals throughout the song give it a much more feminine and sweet flavor than the other songs on the album.

“Emptiness” channels more of the lingering dark essence of the first track, utilizing a more dense synthesizer inspired sound, accompanied by heavy percussion in the background. Elverum’s vocal pitch and affect serve to contrast the ominous melody, attempting to stand out against the fray. “(Something)” serves as a pleasant musical interlude, consisting of a light, repetitive xylophone. “Boats” and “Planets” both take on an alternative grunge vibe, with heavy percussion and thrashing electric guitar, again contrasted with Elverum’s somewhat subdued vocal element. “Pumpkin” and the appropriately titled, “Spring,” fall back on that dense, heavy electronic sound. "Spring" also utilizes contrasting female choral sounds ithat give it a somewhat hopeful feel. “Books” is a refreshing track that provides light to an otherwise dark album. It is a playful, mainly instrumental track that utilizes the keyboard and other electronically driven synth elements. While it suggests that we might be out of the woods, emerging from a long winter, “This” does not give as upbeat as a sound that one might hope for an escape. The album ends with “Youth,” one of the most melodic tracks on the album, yielding a more simplistic, and perhaps less pretentious, characteristic than the other tracks on the album.

Overall, Elverum’s concept album begins with intrigue, but ends with some confusion and disappointment. The musical and lyrical layers that are created on the album suggest the potential for more complexity, and contrast, not only within the tracks, but among them. A long, dark hibernation leading to the spring of renewal that does not ever seem to sufficiently arrive to provide a clear musical and thematic statement. While Elverum has repeatedly shown his efforts to explore new musical terrain and build upon previous work, Sauna seems to suffocate a little with too much homogeny. However, perhaps this is a just the first in a series of work to come.

Track List:

  1. Sauna
  2. Turmoil
  3. Dragon
  4. Emptiness
  5. (Something)
  6. Boat
  7. Planets
  8. Pumpkin
  9. Spring
  10. Books
  11. This
  12. Youth
Mount Eerie - Sauna Review
Purchase at: Amazon | eMusic

Our Rating

70 / 100
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