The Microphones – Don’t Wake Me Up – Joshua Reedy Reviews
Written by Staff on January 6, 2024
The Microphones – Don’t Wake Me Up – Review by Joshua Reedy.
My copy: 2013 remastered reissue by P.W. Elverum & Sun, Ltd.
Phil Elverum’s second full-length following ‘98’s Tests, Don’t Wake Me Up saw Elverum’s playful approach to experimental rock music bolstered by a firmer confidence in lush vocal harmonies, again featuring multiple additional voices to paint his often surreal lyricism in a whole new light. These early Microphones recordings are essentially the result of Elverum treating Calvin Johnson’s Dub Narcotic Studio as a sonic playground, frequently incorporating strange samples, eclectic instrumentation and loud sound effects for mere seconds at a time.
Elverum’s love of nature permeates the many field recordings found within tracks like “Ocean 1, 2 , 3” where a lone guitar is overwhelmed by a sea of voices and lo-fi synth, converting into a children’s theme for glockenspiel before rumbling, thunderous drums precede a bombastic climax; all this happening in just 3 minutes. “Florida Beach” springs to life before Elverum dissects the structure, accidentally tuning into “Good Vibrations” before landing back into one of his impressive drum lessons. “Here With Summer” is a charming experiment with accordion harmonies, with dense texture serving as a choppy ocean for Elverum’s sweet vocals to glide over like a gentle breeze. Elverum seems more interested in manipulation of structure in his shorter songs, as the four-minute “Where It’s Hotter Pt. 3” revels in a steady, almost kraut-influenced drum beat with nicely-layered drones for much of its runtime; extrapolating lyrically on Elverum’s fixation on desperation and lost love.
The fittingly icy, staccato keys of “I’m Getting Cold” balance well with the crumbling distortion – the vocals remain tied to pop music, as if these were lost tapes of some famous pop band that had been degraded and worn by repeated play. At the center of “I’ll Be In The Air” and “You Were In The Air” lies one of Elverum’s longest running musical continuities in a longing melody that breaks through the edginess of Eric’s Trip-esque lo-fi rocking. “What Happened To You” is the first truly ominous use of dissonance, fading between TV or radio channels amidst sinister bass drones that finally relieve some pressure when they ascend to a major note. The Sonic Youth-ian vamping of songs like “It Wouldn’t” demonstrate that Elverum’s guitar skills weren’t as impressive as his drumming or knack for arranging, though he fortunately doesn’t linger on the traditional rock segments long, often feigning away into vocal catharsis.
The title track toys with dreamlike themes again, using female vocals to play the role of a dream itself, with these vocals standing as the highlight of the song overall. The brief ambient break of “Sweetheart Sleep Tight” taps into some visceral, cathartic sense: combining some of the album’s stormiest noise with a flood of synth and tender, reassuring vocal harmonies – as if this were the voice of a long lost loved one, reaching out to comfort you in your dreams from an imperceivable plane. “Instrumental” is interesting for how it syncopates heavy breathing with loud drums and guitar, while closer “I Felt You” is merely a brief assembly of cute vocal drones.
While Tests is often overlooked in favor of this record, they both engage in a similar style of innocent, yet powerful writing. Where other bands evoke a sense of childlike glee by focusing on bright, shimmering sounds, Elverum’s take on experimental purity involves a lot of noise-onset trauma. From exploding drums and booming waves of distortion, Don’t Wake Me Up is like being a kid and feeling frightened by the random outbursts of a massive thunderstorm; its lo-fi nature reinforcing this sense of confusion and brutality. And yet, at the center of all this noise, Elverum and co.’s voices always attempt to lull their listeners into a comfort, proving a mastery of melodic writing.