Bon Iver's new self-titled album is out this week, and the buddies at Pitchfork aptly sum up what has become the defining myth, and albatross, for the scruffy singer/songwriter born Justin Vernon--the Cabin in the Woods (TM):
Mount Eerie's Cabin-Time Creation, Dawn.
The guy who recorded an album alone in the woods.This line might end up on Justin Vernon's tombstone. There's something irresistible about the thought of a bearded dude from small-town Wisconsin retreating, heartbroken, to a cabin to write some songs--especially when the result is a record that sounds as hushed and introspective as Bon Iver's 2007 debut, For Emma, Forever Ago. These days, Vernon is more likely to poke fun at the image, but it endures because it fulfills a fantasy for us as listeners. Even if we don't care for the outdoors, most of us occasionally want to escape our lives, be alone with our thoughts, and see if we can tap into something true. In a time of easy distraction, the idea of heading into a cabin at the edge of the world to create is alluring.
It's only a little shocking that Pitchfork didn't link in that review to this (too apt?) Onion article: "Man Just Going to Grab Guitar and Old Four-Track, Go Out to Cabin in Woods, Make Shittiest Album Anyone's Ever Heard." But it's worth remembering, as the price of rural cabins continues to skyrocket, that Anacortes/Olympia hero Phil Elverum (aka the Microphones/Mount Eerie) got there first--and got there farther . . .
Back in the winter of 2002-03, the simultaneously expansive and introspective singer/songwriter/studio tinkerer Elverum took to an isolated cabin in far northern Norway to bury his old self (the Microphones) in the snow and re-emerge all purified and wide-eyed and reborn (as Mount Eerie). Also, there was a girl to try to forget about. Of course, these things rarely work out the way we imagine they will--or, to quote the man himself, from the song "Great Ghosts": "I had my hopes of how I would be after living in exile . . . but as you can see, having descended the hill/I still look like me, I still wallow as Phil/and forever will."
If the trip didn't pan out in terms of idealized spiritual rebirth, it at least spawned Elverum's most rewarding creative output since his Microphones peak (2001's stone-cold magnum opus The Glow Pt. 2). The songs written in that cabin in Norway got aired out at the time and captured as live albums at a couple one-off shows in Copenhagen and Japan, they became the basis for Mount Eerie's earliest recordings (before he embarked on his current "black wooden" phase), and the whole period was documented by Elverum in a diary later published as the album/journal Dawn. How you like them cabins, Emma?