Album: It Was Hot, We Stayed in the Water
Artist: The Microphones
Reason Featured: #7 Album for Pitchfork’s Top Twenty Albums of 2000
My Favorite Songs: The Pull, Ice, Karl Blau, Between Your Ear and Your Other Ear
Their Grades: Pitchfork (9.2/10)
My Grade: 88%
Phil Elverum, mastermind behind The Microphones, is a rather straightforward experimenter. If he wants to indulge himself instrumentally, he comes right out and tells you so. “Drums” and “Organs” are just that, exclusivist forays into what he can do with those instruments. On top of that, his quiet-loud/loud-quiet dynamics are established early on with album opener “The Pull” starting out as a soft acoustic strummer before going full-bore brassy Jeff Mangum and second track “Ice” starting out a cacophony and quickly warping into a fingerpicked ballad. He wants you to know what you’re in for before you jump in his water but, by the time you’re done, you’re left wondering who wouldn’t want to cool down at the end of a long day with his homespun, postmodern folk songs.
As I was listening to It Was Hot, We Stayed in the Water, I couldn’t help but think of it as a sort of companion to Animal Collective’s Sung Tongs, sans the latter’s occasional inaccessibility. You get all of mid-period AC’s Beach Boys harmonies, quirky instrumentation and boyish warbling but it goes down much easier on the first go-round here. It took me six years to get into Animal Collective (yes, I’m serious) and only one listen to really like The Microphones. That may be a weakness to some but it’s a clear strength to me.
If there’s any criticism I can level toward It Was Hot, it’s a problem with length. “The Glow” is eleven minutes long and that’s mostly justified by the ornate harmonies and instrumental diversions. But sometimes, there just isn’t enough going on to warrant extended attention. Likewise, Elverum has a habit of just shutting down songs abruptly when they could’ve been left running for some time (ex: “Sand”). These are paltry complaints in comparison to the record’s strengths though. It’s old-fashioned enough to be familiar (“Karl Blau,” “Ice”) and odd enough to be foreign (“The Glow,” “The Gleam”) in a way that’s both surprising and cohesive. When he gets to strumming his acoustic like the sun’s going to fall out of the sky on “The Pull” or “Between Your Ear and Your Other Ear,” it makes you appreciate the musicianship even more. His simplest songs are more engaging than a lot of other people’s most ornate compositions so anytime he dips into more decorated arrangements, it’s just an added bonus for us.
All to say: if you’re a fan of indie folk, whether produced by the Elephant Six Collective or Robin Pecknold & co., you’ll find something to like and be surprised by here.