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. AutoTune is, strangely, a perfect fit for that aesthetic. It provides the perfect amount of unnaturalness while maintaining what makes a human singing voice sound, well, human. Elverum has fun with the processor, too. He pitches his voice up to sound female (a la Prince’s Camille project from 1986) or down to affect something like a glowering shaman.
If nothing else, the electronic makeover magnifies the core qualities of the original songs. The creeping dread “The Hidden Stone” and the awed-at-the-world tingles of “Yawning Sky” are amplified to borderline overwhelming levels via these new pixelated undercurrents.
It’s almost as if these musical ideas were always lying under the surface of the source albums, just waiting for someone to dig deep enough to find them. To get a sense of that, find a way to play the original and its Pre-Human Ideas version at the same time. These pseudo-mashups expand Elverum’s vision to a Cinerama-like depth of field with the picture beautifully warping around the edges. Whatever Elverum’s true intentions with this release, it certainly has a welcome place in his vast and varied discography.