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Willie Heath Neal
Rah Bras
The Soundtrack of Our Lives
Tall Paul
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Hector Zazou and Sandy Dillon

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the glow, pt. 2
The Microphones
The Glow, Pt. 2

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Let's do the short review first: buy the Glow, Pt. 2, and buy anything else by Phil Elvrum's Microphones. I don't know if he's more gifted than Thom Yorke, or the Modest Mouseketeer, but he's more interesting, and harder to pin down. I approach anything he does with a great deal of anticipation, because I know it'll be completely different from anything else I've heard all year.

The Glow, Pt. 2 is a logical but seldom-explored extension of early-'70s prog-folk pioneers like Dom and the Strawbs. It approaches this mostly unexplored area of rock's past with the same degree of experimentation, and classical expertise, but Elvrum fuses his tracks with more inward emotions, and the sort of fragile voice that wasn't commonly heard until indie rock's heyday. He also updates the sound by casting aside the stoner aspects of the music in favor of something purely organic and human.

The album starts out on a particular high with "I Want the Wind to Blow". The song title also serves as the moving chorus that takes minor observations ("There's hard feelings/There's pointless waste") into the rich landscape of the acoustic guitars and fuzzed-out drums, giving the piece an epic power. Given its urgent, momentous thrusts, the song ends in a surprisingly languorous, contented strum. The explosion I expected did not wait long to emerge, though; a storm of guitar introduces the title track. Like the album as whole, "The Glow, pt. 2" is a meandering piece, but it wanders in the best sense of the word, with mysterious banalities ("I took my shirt off in the yard/No one saw that the skin on my shoulders was golden/Now it's not") following a six-string barrage, leading the listener to a world where every pause and every sound seems smothered in drama. It is impossible not to pay attention; you get a vibe that Elvrum is in total control of the situation, pinning every note down in place. This is important, because after you've heard the first half of the CD, you can barely recall the anthemic opener. Sometimes, as with "I'll not contain you", I even get the sensation that Elvrum has written an entire album about taking a nap. Lyrics from "The Gleam, pt. 2" ("I saw your future in my sleep") even hint at this.

Still, I pay attention for all of the album's 66 minutes. For me, the most radio-friendly moments come in tracks 12 through 15. Accompanied by wind, lovely female vocals, anguished screaming and a delicious organ, Elvrum shows wonderful, operatic pop sense in "Map", and approaches Paul Simon prettiness in "I Am Bored". "I Felt My Size" showcases Elvrum's debt to Syd Barrett -- it's psychedelic folk with sad vocals and giddy, far-out music -- while "You'll be in the Air" splinters from charging rock into a quiet plea to be buried in the snow. Through the power and melodic splendor of these songs, it becomes easy to trust numbers like "My Warm Blood" and "Samurai Sword" when they launch into minutes of church bells and quiet static. Elvrum and his cohorts offer no indication that The Glow, pt 2 won't radically alter your life, so you keep listening and listening to it, somewhat hoping the strange, sprawling recording will change you.

-- Theodore Defosse
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