Album Review: Microphones in 2020

With the band’s first release in 17 years, Phil Elverum of the Microphones shares his vulnerable yet powerful journey of becoming an artist.

The Microphones is a project of Phil Elverum, started in the late 1990s in Olympia, Washington. Phil gained prominence in the local lo-fi scene, often collaborating with nearby artists such as Calvin Johnson, Bret Lundsford, and Mirah, to name a few. The Microphones were Phil’s solo project - signature of his experimental sounds balanced with thoughtful introspection. Unfortunately, the project seemed to have come to a halt when he began creating new works under the name Mount Eerie, claiming that he was ready for something new (taken from an interview with Pitchfork magazine).

With the first Microphones release in 17 years, Microphones in 2020, Phil is looking back. The album is best devoured by watching the “flip book” video created for it on Youtube featuring the artist’s stunning photographs. The video features an empty table with a hand placing down a glossy photograph about every 10 seconds. The partnering of the music and the visuals are almost inseparable - creating a heightened experience and deeper understanding for the viewer. Watching these images flash by, we are caught up in someone’s memories, yet they are neutral enough to spark our own subconscious. The images feeling both insignificant and significant at the same time offers the idea that this singer is reminding us of the preciousness of the mundane.

The album itself consists of a 44-minute song composed of steady, droning guitar progressions and delicately sung monologue-style lyrics. Phil introduces his thoughts by attempting to share his idea of the “true state of all things”.

Through the lyrics he takes us through his journey of becoming an artist. Going backwards through time, we are taken to Olympia when he was just 17 and starting off experimenting with sounds, then onto when he was constantly touring with the Microphones, and even closer to the present day when he changed names and isolated himself in a cabin in Norway. All throughout these experiences, Phil is often taken aback. He sings of moments of intense inspiration, but also reflective meditation. Perhaps he could be described as an observer; Phil sings that, “Every song I’ve ever sung is about the same thing: standing on the ground looking around, basically.” Often engulfed by nature and weather - a recurring theme - he is constantly questioning what is the true essence he is trying to achieve (and who he is, exactly).

Through time and inspired experiences, Phil explains his decisions and his intentions to make art that was connected to a “deeper peace”. He begins to learn as he grows older that he is always learning, forgetting and then learning again. Microphones in 2020 was his opportunity to look back and share, for him to create a part of eternity with a simple message:

“Now only and there’s no end”.


L. Rupnik is the co-host of Last Stop: This Song (every Wednesday from 11:00AM-12:00PM) here at CJLO and is a musician in the making.