When I first heard The Glow Pt. 2, I likened it to Neutral Milk Hotel’s output: moments like Phil Elverum belting out “I took my shirt off in the yard” after the opening onslaught of the title track made me think of Jeff Mangum’s unconventional vocals; the physical power and the ability to mine emotions inside himself and maybe even ones that the listener didn’t know existed within themselves. Big sentence, I know, but Mangum and Elverum deserve them. Of course, this sounds nothing like Neutral Milk Hotel, although the folk songs and lo-fi bursts will make more sense than my next comparison.
Over the years, this has reminded me – again, of all things – of R.E.M.’s Fables of the Reconstruction, not because they sound anything alike, but because they both conjure an atmosphere of overgrown trees and palpable anxiety. Except, whereas R.E.M.’s tensions were politically born, Elverum’s are existential in nature. There’s much rumination on death here, from “I Want to Be Cold”’s quiet resolution (quiet, compared to everything else that’s happening) of “I don’t want to breathe anymore” or the title track’s “I faced death / I went in with my arms swinging.” (Interestingly, no one seems to have zoomed in on how fucking poignant a lyric like “I could not get through September without a battle” is for an album released just after 9/11, even if it was recorded prior to that.) The first track, and also the best one (the rhythm in the bass notes, to say nothing of that irresistible melody), bemoans “The awful feeling of electric heat” before Elverum sighs for what feels like an eternity before finally declaring “I want wind to blow.” He explains to Believer magazine that the song represented how he was “tired of gray. Give me black or white,” and that statement reads like a need for extreme change rather than static complacency. (“I Am Bored,” indeed.) And then, you know, he gets just that as “I Want Wind to Blow” builds upon two chords before erupting into “The Glow Pt. 2.” The rest of the album might as well not exist, and this would already be in short list of well-sequenced records from the first two songs alone, to say nothing of “The Moon,” with its droning intro.
The main draws come early, and a single glance at the track times or cursory play-through will tell you that much. But if there were any album that was “the sum of its parts,” it would be this one, and there are plenty of moments outside of the opening salvo that are worthy of as much attention: the chorale singing of “My Roots Are Strong and Deep,” the gorgeous fingerpicked melody of the first “Instrumental” that survives in the air when our protagonist gets a glimpse of salvation (it sounds to me like sun striking through clouds and illuminating a path); the squeaks of the second “(Something)”; how his singing in “You’ll Be in the Air” achieves that effect; the sudden Grandaddy interlude of “I Felt My Size” (except better than any Grandaddy interlude); the lyrics “When I looked out across the freeway at the people flying by / I turned my head, I closed my eyes, I felt my size”; the percussion of the second “Instrumental”; the jaunt-evoking strum of “I Felt Your Shape.” One of the most perfect, imperfect albums, and certainly my favorite of 2001 (followed by Jay-Z, the Dismemberment Plan, the Strokes and Radiohead).