Release Date: Nov 12, 2013
Record label: P.W. Elverum & Sun Ltd.
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock, Indie Rock, Lo-Fi, Indie Pop, Experimental Rock
In the hands of almost any other artist, the idea behind this latest release from Mount Eerie would be a ghastly one: For Pre-Human Ideas, Phil Elverum—the creative force behind this project—took a handful of previously recorded material (primarily songs from his band’s previous two albums, Clear Moon and Ocean Roar) and reinvented them using digital means including Auto-Tune and MIDI instrumentation. But just as it was with his “black metal” album (Wind’s Poem), this album is about exploring the possibilities of these computerized tools and finding ways to adapt these concepts into Elverum’s assured vision. Because even at its most intense, Mount Eerie’s music has a warm, soothing quality to it.
Phil Elverum recently posted a response on Tumblr to a complaint from somebody who'd bought an album from the Mount Eerie merch table and was disappointed to discover it sounded nothing like the set they'd played on that particular night. "A fundamental aspect of art is that it is wild and unpredictable," replied Elverum, later adding, "You are not purchasing a reliable product like pants." .
The title Pre-Human Ideas calls to mind a disparaging thought: an auto-tune re-imaging of previous works that attempts to be starkly human. The cold, robotic vocals are at odds with any sort of notion of “humanism.” In spite of this the album, and Phil Elverum’s music in general, works on a very basal level. Its ephemeral beauty is natural, so much that it feels universal.
Another fascinating Mount Eerie album, Pre-Human Ideas collects electronic versions of songs from Phil Elverum's pair of ambitious 2012 releases, Clear Moon and Ocean Roar, that began as instructional demos to help touring bands learn them. With the addition of new lyrics sung by Auto-Tuned vocals ranging from a rumbling bass to a fragile soprano, they allow Elverum to play with some of his favorite themes -- mortality, the vastness of nature -- in ways that create thought-provoking tangents to the source material and are intriguing in their own right. More than just musical footnotes, these reworkings add extra depth to Mount Eerie's already complex body of work.
Phil Elverum has always been someone who looks to disrupt the norm with his music. Not in a particularly aggressive way, but just to do things—his things—differently. Pre-Human Ideas is another idea of his that aims to subvert, even in a small way. For this album, by re-lacing new melodies and words over re-recorded songs previously released on last year’s double releases Clear Moon and Ocean Roar (and also by Auto-Tuning his vocals), there’s an immediate discomfort as the familiar and unusual clash.
There’s the Phil Elverum you may know, writing vaporous sometimes violent songs as Mount Eerie, the hermetic man shrouded in a low fog that hangs somewhere in the Pacific Northwest, releasing music filled with ghosts and shapes of dreams and nature, fully lo-fi, totally analog, having once spent a winter in a secluded cabin in arctic Norway and having once droned the words “My blood flows harshly” under his erstwhile moniker the Microphones, sending chills down the arms of those who heard it. Then there’s the Phil Elverum who does Lil Wayne at karaoke wearing flip-flops. The guy who tweets great jokes, who draws bizarre comics like the ones you find in the back of zines, who owns and operates a record label that put out a 7” of his last two Mount Eerie records Clear Moon and Ocean Roar playing simultaneously over each other—the Phil Elverum who’s shown with a couple of doughnuts on the Pre-Human Ideas cover art.
Phil Elverum has indulged in revisiting, reworking, and repurposing his songs before, releasing alternate cuts and even isolated instrumental tracks (see: The Drums from Mount Eerie and The Drums from No Flashlight). On this particular return, he's taken a combo platter of tracks, the lion's share from his two 2012 releases, Clear Moon and Ocean Roar, and fed them through an auto-tuner. While some results sound a little too much like a Speak and Spell, the compositions largely survive their robotic mutations, some even gaining new generations of melancholy and grayness via their detachment from the world of simple human emotion.
Pre-Human Ideas is compiled of previously released Mount Eerie songs re-recorded using MIDI instruments and Auto-Tuned, pitch-shifted voices. Mount Eerie’s regular releases are so organic that they’re seemingly infused with a veritable aroma of mulch, so this digitization is a complete contrast. The first vocal track that comes in is the extremely deep lead on “No Inside, No Out”, and it’s so alien and unlike Phil Elverum’s usual delicate mewl that it would be funny, if only it weren’t so beautiful.
Pre-Human Ideas is a selection of Mount Eerie songs, largely from last year’s pair of albums Clear Moon/Ocean Roar, with auto-tune applied to their vocal tracks. It sounds, essentially, exactly like what that implies. Re-working old songs is nothing new to Elverum, who has long had a habit of playing around with his catalogue – a quick count shows three studio versions of “Wooly Mammoth’s Mighty Absence” in my iTunes library, for instance – but generally these have felt like little more than playing around.