I always just sort of figured that Quentin Tarantino was on drugs. Hard drugs. Not heroin, but definitely coke and maybe speed. Absolutely marijuana. Then I read that the famously fast-talking, hard-working auteur supposedly hates drugs. Hates them. Likewise, I always thought that Mount Eerie's Phil Elverum was the most gentle, kind, simple and honest man to ever swim the streams of indie rock. Then I read his book, which is either titled Dawn or Winter Journal or Dawn (Winter Journal Edition). He might be kind and he's definitely honest, but gentle and simple? No. Absolutely not. In fact, he's quite the opposite. Brutal. Complex. Almost scary in some ways.
Dawn, a set of voice-and-guitar songs Elverum wrote while living alone in a remote area of Norway through the winter of 2002-03, was actually released in 2008. It was released only on vinyl, and quickly became almost impossible to find. Soon after it's release came news that the record was in the planning stages of a second release, this time in the form of a CD/book combo that would include the journal/novel Elverum wrote while staying in Norway. Also included would be an explanation as to why Elverum retreated to Norway at the height of his fame (this right after his signature work, The Glow, Pt. 2 was hitting every best-of list on the planet), a handmade map, some photos of his time in Norway, a few drawings and some very stellar packaging. Now, finally, with 2010 around the corner, this passion project is on shelves. It's still not the easiest thing to find - and it's not exactly cheap - but, damn, it's pretty amazing.
For starters, Elverum, who wrote this journal/novel/whatever at age 24, is a strong writer who isn't afraid to dig deep and spill his findings for anyone interested. He writes about the reasons he left, how he ended up in Norway, how he spent his time and much more. Explains Elverum: "I only had two real tasks [while in Norway]: gathering dead trees to burn from the surrounding small forest and getting water from a hole in a frozen stream. The rest of the time I wandered around, obsessed over my life dramas, stared into space, read books, wrote letters, made up songs, went crazy and eventually snapped out of my misery and noticed the dawn." You just got served, Bon Iver.
But I'm no book critic. I'm here to talk about the record. The first thing you should know is that many of these songs (which, mind you, were written years and years ago) have appeared on various Elverum projects, usually as fleshed-out band cuts. Here we get what I'm calling the "Norway Versions." Nineteen songs that Elverum describes as "songs about my own metaphorical adventures and wrestling matches with big questions." We hear a guitar and we hear a voice. We hear holes here and there - ghosts, almost. The work is sparse and often cryptic, but it's also very strong and personal stuff. The insides of a man going through something. It's obvious that Elverum is a fan of Neil Young, even if he sounds nothing like him in voice. He sounds a bit like Little Wings and Mirah, but, mostly, he sounds like the Phil Elverum we know from last year's much acclaimed Lost Wisdom record. We learn that Elverum was a great songwriter even back in 2002 - back when most people thought of him as a really interesting producer with a lot of wild ideas and an endless number of talented friends who were willing to do anything for him. The writing is bare and confessional, abstract and telling. It'll haunt you.
And if you listen to the record while reading the book, Elverum will change you. No longer will you expect so little from artists and albums and projects. You'll forever be searching for the insides of the strange people who write the strange songs you hum in the shower. Don't expect to find much. For this reason, Dawn (Winter Journal Edition) is a special record. It's the rare handful of music that you'll never forget getting to know. It's about to get cold out, better find this record before it disappears again.