Phil Elverum has a way of making the universe smaller, our dreams real, our fears empathetic, all without minimizing the gravity of things that often feel intangible. In recent years, his music has expanded with explosive energy, as it constantly threatens to erupt like a balloon filled with knives. "This" comes from the forthcoming Sauna by Elverum's Mount Eerie project, with the song bursting forth from what sounds like distorted shards of vinyl spun backwards.
"'This' is about reading a book about another time and place — the medieval North Sea, for example," Elverum writes, "and becoming totally transported by the torrent of abstract associations and images, 'traveling mentally wild.' And then coming back to the present moment, the 'this' of the title."
In this video directed by Peter J. Brant, a young boy (played by Isaac Hanson) reads a book on Scandinavian mythology; he becomes absorbed by its paintings (Revebjeller by Nikolai Astrup, Sommernatt by Eilif Peterssen) and a photograph of the Oseberg funeral ship shown at its excavation. It's punctuated by a droning organ, the close harmonies of Allyson Foster (Hungry Cloud Darkening) and Ashley Eriksson (Lake), sharp visual imagery at every mention of "this," and a dream logic that connects it all.
"The song and the video are seemingly surreal and ambiguous, but actually it is an attempt at a straight-up accurate depiction of this every-moment mental experience," Elverum writes. "An orange traffic cone in a weird place, a pumpkin smashed on the rocks, a sword in the sky; all mental images piercing through layers of dream, all aiming for some kind of lucidity."
When the sword in the sky appears, flutes flutter in frenzied counterpoint, returning later — with not only the backwards-spinning-vinyl effect, but also the Foster/Eriksson duo echoing the flutes, its arrhythmic chaos tearing away at the dream. We're only brought back to reality as we think "back to the specific spot in the river in spring thaw," with a muffled thumping that recalls an oar hitting a boat. Or are we?
Sauna comes out Feb. 3 on P.W. Elverum & Sun.
Mount Eerie's "This" is featured in Songs We Love.