Pre-Human Ideas is compiled of previously released Mount Eerie songs re-recorded using MIDI instruments and Auto-Tuned, pitch-shifted voices. Mount Eerie’s regular releases are so organic that they’re seemingly infused with a veritable aroma of mulch, so this digitization is a complete contrast. The first vocal track that comes in is the extremely deep lead on “No Inside, No Out”, and it’s so alien and unlike Phil Elverum’s usual delicate mewl that it would be funny, if only it weren’t so beautiful. Even though these songs have been completely warped, the best amongst them still hold a transcendental elegance.
Subtleties and finer details are gone on Pre-Human Ideas: no crackling guitars, no delicate finger-plucking, no straining voices, no disquieting rumbling of percussion. Instead, it’s full of big, clean, sterile blocks of sound, the songs identifiable as new versions of old familiars, yet quite different, almost like impressionist versions. This works particularly well on “The Place Lives”, which swaps out growling crescendos for clean, autumnal swaths of sound that partner nicely with Elverum’s lyrics. Elsewhere, intertwining Auto-Tuned vocals light up “I Say ‘No’”, while “Yawning Sky” becomes a grand robotic dream.
Other tracks don’t fare quite as well. “House Shape” is deflated without the churning guitars driving it, and “Lone Bell” lacks the creeping percussion and haunting atmospherics of its Clear Moon counterpart, Auto-Tuned voices unsatisfactorily trying to make up for it.
The original purpose of the takes on Pre-Human Ideas was to guide Mount Eerie’s touring bands in learning the songs before playing them live. Elverum’s decision to release these tracks shows a level of pride in them, and certainly there is enough here to delight die-hard fans. But, overall, it’s barely more than a set of curios, which may have been better off released as a free download.
Essential Tracks: “The Place Lives”, “I Say ‘No'”