Mount Eerie has set out to release three albums this year, which I guess makes him 2012’s Robyn. His first effort, Clear Moon, was something of a surprise hit. It’s a subdued album released among the fanfare of this forest/log cabin/rustic fad, but Eerie’s take was something much more specific and haunting. I missed his second effort of the year when it debuted in September, but it’s been an obvious hit on my to-listen list. Ocean Roar continues what Clear Moon started with equal strength and confidence. These are albums with a well defined sound, but that live in a place of uncertainty and aimlessness.
Ocean Roar is very much cut from the same cloth as its predecessor. It is neither a sequel nor something separate entirely. Rather, Ocean Roar feels as though it may be a second act in a story that we’ve unwittingly become buried in. Naturally, it’s now time for the rising action and climax, and Ocean Roar spends much of its time setting the scene something moody for Eerie’s vocalist (and only member) Phil Elverum. Tracks like Engel Der Luft (Popol Vuh) and Instrumental are solely a continued grinding guitar reminding us that something ominous is looming. It could reach the pseudo-drama of a prog act, but Eerie’s tones are natural and work to elevate a cleaner central thread.
Where this aggressive guitar shows its intent is on tracks like Waves or the opener, Pale Lights. The latter runs just shy of ten minutes and greets us with the type of dark and forbidding but eminently rocking tones that we might expect from Arcade Fire. Interrupting these tracks, however, is Elverum’s vocals. He dips in at their cores, lowering the madness in favor of a calmer, woodsy grotto in which he can croon. Many of these lyrics are closer to short poems. Naturally, these makes for nontraditional tracks. They aren’t focused around a lead vocal line, and their vocals aren’t even trying to lead us somewhere when they appear.
This can create the unfortunate effect of making the album feel oddly sparse of material, in spite of its near forty minute runtime. These extended rock-outs are moody and excited, but they’re intentionally a step removed from attention grabbing. This means that while they set the mood well, they don’t compel us as effectively as they could. This would-be trilogy as a whole could almost be compared to an extended, more personal version of The Decemberists’s rock opera The Hazards of Love. As a broader piece, these long rocking mood pieces work as stellar background material, but their ability to make a strong and meaningful track is questionable. That isn’t what these pieces are going for, but without bringing this broader meaning to them, they don’t work as well as any piece of an album should.
It is, in spite of this, an equally strong album as Clear Moon, and it’ll be interesting to see if this truly is a trilogy of sorts when Eerie’s third LP of the year drops. When Robyn did this in 2010, her third and final LP was short on new material: it was an expanded amalgamation of the first two’s hits, and it was worse off for it. The charm of the quirks, kinks, and experimentation that an excess of releases allowed her made the first two strong, whereas the third, though good for all its collected hits, stumbled in its personality. One can hope that the follow up to Ocean Roar won’t simply be the finest material of this past year, but a continuation of the journey that we’ve gone through on these first two. There’s little doubt that that would make for a strong LP.