Phil Elverum has always been a bit of an odd creature. That’s not to call him difficult or some sort of an outcast, though maybe he’d prefer those descriptors. After folding up his band The Microphones almost 10 years ago, he’s operated in the most independent way with the creation of Mount Eerie. He’s foregone signing to any record label, instead starting up P.W. Elverum & Sun as a way to operate. He’s also notoriously hesitant to do any press surrounding his releases, perhaps feeling that those who want to find his music will know where to look. He lives in Anacortes, Washington, which is a somewhat remote town about an hour outside of Seattle. You’d think he’d want to be left alone, except he keeps making and releasing music. His current project is a double album of sorts, two sides of the same coin set to be released four months apart from one another. The first half of that arrives now with Clear Moon. For those that have heard a Mount Eerie or Microphones record before, there are a lot of familiar markers that have shown up in Elverum’s work before that continue on this new album. There are the short instrumental and experimental tracks that have no title other than “(something)”, there’s the gratuitous use of the “pt. 2” signifier even if pt. 1 is nowhere to be found, and let’s not forget about some similarly worded song titles. None of these things truly matter in the end, but they are part of the guy’s unique charm. The last Mount Eerie record Wind’s Poem was a small departure for Elverum, taking a new love of heavy metal to heart and bringing a new ferocity to an otherwise docile sound. Almost amusingly, though the melodies got bigger and much louder on that album, his vocals maintained his classic calm and even mumble the entire time. The paradox was palpable but engaging all the same. The metal and volume get largely shelved on Clear Moon, in favor of the more sedate, folk-based beauty that Lost Wisdom espoused. Only the brash, horn-infused “Lone Bell” pumps some serious and somewhat terrifying muscle into the proceedings. It brings forth the sort of intensity nightmares are made of, but more the kind where there’s something terribly wrong in paradise but you’re not exactly sure what. Unsettling is a great descriptor not only for that song, but the entire record. The underlying theme is all about trying to find what defines “home” for you personally. Opening track “Through the Trees, Pt. 2” has Elverum on a quest across mountains, wilderness and even the Internet to try and find things “just to remind myself that I briefly live.” That follows with “The Place Lives” and “The Place I Live,” wherein he gazes upon nature and questions his importance in the scheme of the universe. The poetic lyrics are worded precisely enough to keep you questioning whether he feels bothered or content with where he’s at. They’re also designed to probe our own consciences and provide us with some food for thought. The places we live and the homes we build for ourselves are in many ways as temporary as life. It’s a comfort to be able to settle somewhere and form a life around it, but how much of an impact on the world we have in that setting is entirely our own choice. Through beautiful bits like “Yawning Sky” and heavier dirges like “Over Dark Water”, Clear Moon does a sharp job of balancing the light and the dark so we’re not completely overwhelmed on either front. Elverum says that the other Mount Eerie record he’ll be releasing this year, titled Ocean Roar, will be darker, weirder and heavier. Let’s just hope it doesn’t lose any of the lush beauty and contemplative lyrics that this one has in spades.