Published Jan 30, 2015Previous albums by Phil Elverum, the lo-fi mastermind behind both Mount Eerie and its predecessor project the Microphones, are titled after more natural phenomena, including Little Bird Flies into a Big Black Cloud, Dawn and Ocean Roar. Even though his latest, Sauna, takes its name and cavernous, warm and disorienting vibe from a manmade contraption, it still finds Elverum drawing inspiration from the world around him set to a blend of drone, folk and rock.
The album is structured around two behemoth tracks — the title track and "Spring," clocking in at 10 minutes or longer each — but it's the shorter tracks where the album is at its most engaging. "Turmoil" and "Planets" are under two minutes long, but feature great, chugging melodies from the get-go that are gone too soon. Though Sauna bounces around a range of sonic ideas at a jarringly irregular pace, the record has no shortage of strong, memorable moments courtesy of Elverum's typical ambient folk but also thanks largely to Allyson Foster and Ashley Eriksson's vocal harmonies, which make several appearances on the record to add a sweet choral element to the dark, creaky undercurrent, most notably on standout "Dragon."
This hodgepodge of ideas, irregular pacing and abrupt transitions are oddly compelling; though it can be tough to make it to the end of the hour-long work, Elverum makes it worth it. While less cohesive than his previous work, Sauna is still listenable, wistful and memorable no matter what Elverum throws at the listener, a testament to a musician whose output has been — and remains — equally baffling and gripping. (P.W. Elverum & Sun, Ltd.)