The Microphones - The Glow Pt. 2



Title: The Glow, Pt. 2
Artist: The Microphones
Release: 25/09/2001
Genre: Indie / Noise Rock
Label: K

Favourite tracks: I want Wind to Blow / The Glow, Pt. 2 / The Moon / Headless Horseman / The Mansion / I'll Not Contain You / The Gleam, Pt. 2 / Map / You'll be in the Air / I Want to be Cold / I Felt My Size / I Felt Your Shape / Samurai Sword

"I got hit hard, I'm on the ground
And if you swing again I'll duck
But I wish you the best of luck
You deserve yourself
And I'll return from my trip to hell
As a headless horseman"

When I heard this album for the first time, I was pretty confused to say the least. I had heard how critically acclaimed it was, so I decided to give it a listen. But after two listens I didn’t understand the appeal whatsoever. I’d heard it be compared to Neutral Milk Hotel’s In The Aeroplane Over the Sea, an album that I absolutely love; from its excellent production to the bizarre and beautiful dream-like quality of the lyrics. But The Glow, Pt. 2 has neither of those things. The production on this album is extremely unorthodox, at times even sounding completely broken. The lyrics are damaged and lack the grandiosity of ITAOTS, and sometimes the instrumentals make it completely impossible to hear what is being said. In retrospect, I disagree completely in the comparison between these two albums, and don’t think they have anywhere near enough similarity that warrants a critical ranking between them. Either way, at the time I shrugged it off, somewhat disappointed that I didn’t “get it”, and it left my memory for the better part of a few months.

Those next few months were an extremely significant period for me, without getting into specifics. And I don’t know exactly what prompted me to try The Glow, Pt. 2 again, but something did.

And I am extremely glad I did.

This album is not a casual listen. I don’t know if it was the attitude I had walked in with the first time, or the fact that I was a different person after those last few months, or a mixture of the two, but I absolutely loved this album when I revisited it. As I said before, the production of this album literally feels broken at times, which I found extremely off-putting at first. However when you properly listen to this thing you can hear how carefully everything is put together. It feels extremely fragile, like a house of cards built from fragments of a failed relationship that singer/songwriter Phil Elverum is recounting, seemingly in the midst of these tumultuous thoughts. Every song here is so raw and messy, sifting clumsily through a sea of Phil’s anxieties and depressive thoughts, and this is very clearly (or unclearly, depending on how you look at it) displayed through his shaky and nervous delivery of the lyrics over instrumentals which are fragmented and overbearing. This juxtaposition between aggression and vulnerability is something seen at several points in the album, portraying an aspect of what I believe to be the overarching theme, loss.

To me, this whole album is a reflection of Phil’s experience of loss of a loved one through a relationship. He seems to experience all five stages of grief, according to the Kübler-Ross model. However instead of a smooth transition between these stages, the album constantly switches between these periods of anger, denial, depression, and isolation through its violent and jarring instrumentation. It's extremely unpredictable, just like how real thoughts can be after an emotionally damaging experience.

"There's no black or white, no change in the light
No night, no golden sun
The sound of cars, the smell of bars
The awful feeling of electric heat
Under fluorescent lights, there's sacrifice
There's hard feelings, there's pointless waste"

In the first song, I Want Wind to Blow, we see an extremely depressed Phil, who is disillusioned by a relationship that has presumably just ended. The lyrics deal with themes of isolation and confusion, however the instrumentals are generally quite coherent and clean. This is completely torn apart in the transition into the second track, with an aggressive burst of distortion which marks the beginning of the next hour-long stretch of this behemoth of an album. The name The Glow, Pt. 2 is a reference to a song titled The Glow from Phil’s previous record, which was a beautiful track about the feelings associated with the start of a relationship, and all the strong and exciting emotions that come with it. In contrast, this album, particularly from this second track onward, is about the forced undoing of those feelings. Each song plays a part in showing Phil’s reaction to this loss, before he is able to finally reach acceptance and move on.

In the third track, The Moon, which is one of the highlights of the album, we see Phil return to key memories in his relationship in order to try and erase them forever. It echoes Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind as he frantically scrambles through old places, photos and memories, unsuccessfully trying to eradicate any painful thoughts from his mind. However, these thoughts continue to persist for the whole album, from the depressed and stripped back lyrics of The Mansion, to his attempt to bargain with his lost love in I’ll Not Contain You, to themes of longingness of the beautiful track I Felt Your Shape, he is unable to shake the constant cycle of thoughts.

This is until the second last track, Samurai Sword, where this house of cards that the album has been building for the last hour comes crashing down in a violent wall of noise. To me, this marks the moment where Phil is able to break this self-destructive cycle of thoughts and finally confront them. After this song, there is a short final refrain in My Warm Blood, before the rest of the album tapers off into silence, with a single, constant piano note playing softly in the distance, which represents the final stage of loss - acceptance. This is actually something that is introduced in several places within the album, but is then constantly interrupted by Phil’s intrusive thoughts in another song. Here however, nothing remains except the piano, and an extremely vague rendition of the opening track playing in the background like a distant memory. It's extremely sobering after such an emotionally draining experience to sit in silence, as if The Glow, Pt. 2 was a vicious storm which has finally passed, and the clouds have finally parted again.

As I said before, this album is not a casual listen. It’s best to sit down and listen to it exclusively, or it can easily be a confusing experience. It’s a confusing experience in its own right, but there is so much to be taken from it that requires a bit of attention. I think it is one of the most interesting break-up albums ever written, and Phil Elverum’s beautifully sad lyrics are brought to another level with his incredibly fragile and emotional performance, on top (or underneath, at times) the extremely unorthodox and fragmented production. The Glow, Pt. 2 is an emotionally challenging album, but is ultimately very rewarding and is a beautifully sad portrait of a period in Phil’s life which was obviously extremely painful, but at the same time extremely important. This album is nothing short of amazing, and if you feel like I did the first time I heard it, I strongly recommend you give it another listen.


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